What Is Walking Depression?
Updated September 06, 2019
Reviewer Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC
When someone says the word "depression," most of us think of a crippling bout of despair that leaves the sufferer unable to get out of bed or accomplish daily tasks.
This kind of major depressive disorder is undoubtedly a health threat and a safety concern. But there are other types of depression which are less well-known and equally concerning.
One of these is walking depression.
If you've heard of walking depression, you might wonder whether you or a loved one could be suffering from this little-known but damaging disorder.
Here are the facts about walking depression.
The Definition Of Walking Depression
You will not find "walking depression" in the DSM-5 manual, a guide to the diagnosis of mental illness. Rather, it is a popular slang term for someone who walks, talks and smiles on the outside…while deeply unhappy on the inside.
If you suffer from this high-functioning form of depression, others around may have no idea at all that you're depressed.
You may be able to go to work every day, socialize, and take care of children with a smile on your face. But all the time, you feel like you're dying inside.
The Difference Between Walking Depression And Major Depression
Walking depression carries almost all of the symptoms of major depression.
- Loss of energy
- Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Eating too much or too little
- The difficulty with concentration or focus
- A sense of worthlessness or hopelessness
- Thoughts of suicide
But there is one key difference between major depressive disorder and walking depression, and that is in the way it presents to the outside world.
It's common for anyone suffering from major depression to struggle with accomplishing even the most basic of daily tasks. They may often call in sick to work. They may neglect chores around the house. They may give up entirely on spending time with friends, exercising, or doing things they love.
In contrast, if you have walking depression, you probably continue to do the same things that you've always done. But the symptoms you carry around inside of you make life painful and joyless. You may feel like you're just going through the motions.
This can make it tough to spot if you or someone you love is suffering from walking depression. Energy and motivation can be faked. Feelings of worthlessness can be masked behind a smile.
However, there are other symptoms which are more visible and can be important clues that someone is suffering from walking depression. They are:
- You can't seem to let go of problems or worries and will stay up all night thinking about them.
- You are brutally critical of yourself…and of everyone else, too. You're argumentative, or you complain a lot. Sometimes the people that are most difficult to get along with are, in fact, depressed.
- Aches and pains. You may have frequent migraine headaches or arthritis flare-ups. You may often feel queasy or nauseous. Depression alters the way you perceive pain. In fact, people with depression have three times the risk of developing chronic pain.
- Alterations in daily habits. Suddenly you're eating all day long. Or maybe skipping meals. Or maybe having a couple of drinks every day after work.
There are also some common characteristics of people who struggle with walking depression. Surprisingly, they can often appear very happy and upbeat. That's because they are putting so much energy into their facade of being OK. Frequently, they might reveal a fear of abandonment or rejection in relationships. They may have odd sleeping or eating habits. And they may appear very intense, wanting to discuss deep, existential subjects about why we're here, the purpose in life, and what happens after.
So what causes walking depression? Why do some people become incapacitated by depression, while others just keep plugging away?
The Causes Of Walking Depression
We still don't know exactly what causes depression.
As far as we can tell, it is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Some people have a genetic predisposition to depression because it runs in their families. Statistically, you are more likely to have depression if a parent or a sibling also has it.
In addition to this, you might suffer from depression as a result of traumatic events, such as childhood abuse or the loss of a job or a loved one.
Very often, mental illness can be attributed to a mix of genetic and environmental factors.
What is less well known is what causes some people to suffer a major depressive episode so that they are unable to function, while others simply keep plugging away.
While we don't have a definitive answer to this, there are some likely theories.
Embarrassment Or Shame
Sadly, there is still a lot of stigma around mental illness today. We've come a long way, but it is still difficult sometimes to admit if you are depressed.
For some, facing the judgments of others, their sympathetic but knowing looks, their well-intentioned advice, might feel like too much. They might also fear fallout at their job if supervisors and coworkers find out about their struggles.
So, although their depression is a painful burden to carry, they choose that pain rather than the shame that could result from admitting the problem.
Lack Of Awareness
If you've had depression for many years, you may have become used to it. You might not even realize that you are depressed. For some people, the fatigue and the hopelessness of depression are so familiar, that they don't see it as a problem.
Some people might believe that they do not deserve to be treated for walking depression. They think it would be selfish to seek help for their condition when there are so many people who are worse off than they are.
Fear Of Losing A Public Image
People with walking depression are often highly successful. They have great careers, good marriages, and they are great parents. They put a lot of energy into creating a facade that shows how "put together" they are. It can be terrifying to admit this image has hidden cracks in it.
If you believe you or a loved one has walking depression, you may think it's not a very big deal. After all, even if a person is unhappy, he or she can still get through the day just fine. Is it necessary to do anything? Is walking depression that much of a problem?
Well…yes it is.
The Hidden Dangers Of Walking Depression
This form of depression may seem relatively benign and harmless. But the risks are real. Here they are.
Walking Depression Affects Your Overall Quality Of Life
You never look forward to anything. The work you do feels meaningless. Everyone around you seems happy, and it makes you jealous and angry.
While you might think it's OK to live like this, it's not. Over time, it will weigh you down more and more…not to mention the effect it has on your relationships with others.
It Can Lead To Major Depression
After all, you're only human. Pretending takes a lot of energy. Eventually will come the point where you are no longer able to do it anymore. Abruptly you may find yourself completely crippled by the symptoms of a major depressive episode.
You Could Be A Greater Risk For Suicide
Suicide is the greatest risk for anyone suffering from untreated depression.
For all these reasons, it's important to seek help if you or a loved one is suffering from walking depression. Contact a trained therapist at BetterHelp to begin your journey of healing.
Beyond that, here are some other things you can do to begin feeling better.
What To Do
Cognitive behavioral therapy could be your first line of defense in finding healing for walking depression. But here are some other strategies.
Reach Out To Trusted Friends
By sharing some of your struggles, you will feel less alone. You don't have to carry the burden of depression by yourself. Find a few friends who are understanding and non-judgmental.
Go Easy On Yourself
Treat yourself with kindness. Forgive yourself for your mistakes. Shut down any negative, critical self-talk. Instead, focus on affirmations and remind yourself of all the things you're good at.
Face The Possibility Of A Big Life Change
In order to treat depression and make changes to how you're feeling, you may be faced with important decisions and other changes to make as part of the process. If you're experiencing depression, please reach out for help..