Some people find ways to cover up or “mask” their symptoms of depression as a way of coping but not dealing with the underlying cause of their depression. Masked depression can be more difficult to treat, because removing these masking strategies may cause the person to feel the overwhelmingly intense pain of their depression. Therapeutic unmasking can feel like pain because the individual is left with the full experience of depression.
Some common strategies to mask depression are overeating, drug & alcohol abuse, and compulsive over-activity which can lead to chronic fatigue.
1. Compulsive Over-activity:
This often-overlooked strategy for masking depression is to stay so busy that you don’t have to feel or connect with your experience. The pain that your depression causes may drive you to avoid any reflection on your emotional life and may block any troubling thoughts.
Over-activity looks so different from common symptoms of depression that others may not notice the underlying sadness. One common way people use over-activity is by becoming workaholics, thus having difficulty coping when the compulsive over-activity is taken away. They may ask all their co-workers and work contacts to remain in touch with them when they are on vacation. Friends and family members may notice that the workaholic almost panics when not surrounded by his or her hectic work life.
Sometimes the compulsive activity can be most trivial, like the man or woman spending exorbitant amounts of time and money shopping, trying to find the perfect shoes for his or her perfect outfit. Shopping for accessories may not be a sign of depression, but when it becomes chronic and compulsive and if he or she seems uneasy when unoccupied, it can be a sign of masked depression.
Masking depression with overeating can become habitual enough where any time you feel the first signs of sadness or hopelessness, you reach for high-fat or sugary foods to dull the pain and keep yourself busy. Because of this, you may never recognize your underlying depression. Overeating is a quick way to avoid negative feelings, and it can give you energy that hides the normal fatigue that comes with depression.
Besides preventing you from coping with your depression, overeating may cause you to gain weight, adding a weight problem on top of your depression. This can exacerbate your already-present depression by increasing any feelings of worthlessness and intensifying your self-punishment. The overeating may continue to drown out your negative internal dialogue.
3. Drug & Alcohol Abuse
Masking depression using drug or alcohol abuse is one of the most dangerous masks a person can put on. Adding addiction on top of depression can make it even trickier when trying to access the ultimate cause of the underlying depression.
The use of drugs and/or alcohol is rewarding, and humans tend to increase behaviors as they are rewarded. Trying to decrease drug or alcohol use seems like a punishment, because of the withdrawals and the pain from their depression they feel when sober. This “punishment” can keep people from reducing or eliminating their destructive habit.
The effects of masking are different depending on the drug. Stimulants temporarily boost self-esteem and give an expanded feeling of self-confidence. They can also increase concentration allowing increased function even during depression. Nicotine has similar effects as stimulants, but it is the most dangerous masking drugs, because it is most common and most lethal.
Alcohol can be used to self-medicate because it is disinhibiting, even though it is a depressant. It may temporarily remove feelings of relentless pain and self-criticism that dealing with depression brings. It can also numb you from all thoughts and feelings.
Although the advantages of drugs and alcohol may seem beneficial, they are temporary and don’t help you deal with the underlying cause of your depression.
Depression affects each person in different ways and symptoms vary from person to person. To visit with a counselor in Fargo or complete an assessment for clinical depression, call 701-478-7199.