First the pandemic brought suicide prevention to the forefront. Then the recent death of Stephen “Twitch” Boss, TV personality, dancer and DJ, brought the topic front and center for the holidays.
Even if people didn’t know of Twitch or watch him on “So You Think You Can Dance” or “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” they were likely to hear about it since it was all over the news and social media.
What significance does this have for HR?
Twitch was known for always being happy and having a huge smile on his face while he was laughing and dancing. DeGeneres even said in her tribute to Twitch that “Stephen lit up every room he stepped into.” So why would a happy person like Twitch who appears to have it all take his own life?
One possibility is that he had smiling depression.
“Smiling depression” is something HR must know about, what to look for and how to educate everyone else on its signs and symptoms.
Many employees spend more time with their co-workers than they do with their family and friends. So educating managers, supervisors and co-workers is essential.
While not a clinical diagnosis, smiling depression is a real problem because people with it mask their symptoms making it harder to identify. They hide behind a smile and a happy disposition to convince everyone else they’re happy and fine. Due to this, it often goes undetected.
Signs of smiling depression
But there are signs you can look for, according to Verywell Mind, such as:
- Appetite and weight changes: Some people overeat when they are depressed, but some lose their appetite and stop eating. This is something co-workers and friends can look for, especially those who eat lunch together. Also, if someone loses or gains a lot of weight over a relatively short period of time, this could be a sign they’re depressed.
- Sleep changes: It’s well known that people who suffer from depression often sleep a lot and have trouble even getting out of bed. But the other side of the coin signals depression, too. If people suddenly start talking about having insomnia, and start falling asleep at work this is another sign they might be depressed.
- Not interested in their normal activities: If a co-worker stops going out to lunch with friends or stops taking walks, this may be a sign they are depressed.
Often people with smiling depression are high-functioning employees. They can appear completely normal and look like they’re having fun. That’s why it’s important for close friends at work to pay attention to even the smallest change and ask about it in a caring way.
As for HR, besides educating employees on smiling depression and what to look for, creating a work environment that is open about mental health is vital. People must feel their employer cares about them to open up to them.
Why would people hide being depressed?
There are many reasons people hide their depression.
One reason is they don’t want to burden their family, friends and co-workers with their problems.
Another reason could be they’re embarrassed. While mental health wellness has come extremely far in the past three years, some people still might see mental illness as a weakness.
And finally, they could be in denial. By ignoring their depression and acting like everything is great, they don’t have to admit to themselves that something is wrong.
But ignoring depression and keeping everything bottled up isn’t a fix. It’s often a recipe for disaster. When things finally boil over, it often leads to suicidal thoughts. And people with smiling depression are especially at high risk because they’re high-functioning people, according to the study Understanding masked depression: A clinical scenario. They often go untreated, which leads to an increased likelihood of suicide.
If a co-worker is suspected of having smiling depression, talk to them about it. Encourage them to seek professional help and give them sources where they can get help. Then follow up to make sure they’re taking steps to get better.