Can You be Depressed and Not Know It? Silent Depression Explained

Have you recently wondered whether you may be experiencing depression without knowing it? This may seem like a strange question to ask yourself, but depression does not always cause easily identifiable signs and the symptoms may also develop gradually. In addition, depressive symptoms may be secondary to a different condition such as anxiety disorder. If you believe that feelings of hopelessness or depressive thoughts are starting to interrupt your daily life, you may be suffering from silent depression. Learning more about some of the subtle signs of depression can help you determine when it is time to seek professional guidance.

*Disclaimer: Diagnosing depression is not always a straightforward process, as this condition may manifest differently for each individual and at distinct times. This article will explore the spectrum of depression, including silent depression.

Can You be Depressed and Not Know it?

Most people think that depression causes classic, recognizable symptoms such as extreme feelings of sadness, sleep disturbances, mood fluctuations, and loss of interest in pleasurable activities [1]. However, issues such as forgetfulness, extreme fatigue, insomnia, or wanting to sleep all the time may signal underlying depression for some individuals. This can make it hard to detect or diagnose this condition. It may also hinder individuals from seeking treatment for their symptoms.

Furthermore, research shows that depression symptoms are often underreported [1]. This is another issue that makes it difficult to accurately diagnose and treat this mental health condition. However, if an individual thinks that his or her mood fluctuations, physical changes, or emotional problems are linked to daily stress, the individual may not express these emotions to a healthcare professional.  

Additional factors that are associated with the underreporting of depressive symptoms include stigma originating from the diagnosis or treatment of depression, the potential loss of emotional control, a general reluctance to discuss personal issues, or an aversion to psychotherapy and antidepressant medications [2], [3], [4]. These factors make it a little easier to see why some people may be depressed without realizing it.

Can You be Depressed Without Feeling Sad?

Some people may appear to be depressed for no reason. This may lead to questions such as ‘can you be depressed without feeling it’ or ‘can you be depressed without being sad?’ The short answer to this question is yes, because sadness is not the primary indicator of depression. According to clinical reports, older adults often deny feelings of sadness even when they are displaying other characteristic signs of depression [5].

Furthermore, people with depression who do not experience or report sadness usually have unexplained physical symptoms and discuss feeling hopelessness. They may also suffer from anxiety or avoid activities that they previously enjoyed. Additional features that often indicate silent depression include a lack of interest in personal hygiene or slow movements [5]. However, these are just a few common behaviors of people who are experiencing depression without feeling sad.

What’s the Difference Between Depression and Sadness?

Sadness is a normal emotion people experience in response to difficult situations, life-changing circumstances, traumatic events, persistent problems, disappointment, and loss. People experience various emotions and being sad or hurt at times is instinctual to humans. Occasionally feeling sad is a natural reaction that is usually temporary and does not disrupt a person’s daily life.

Depression is a mental health disorder that alters emotional control, mood regulation, cognitive performance, and physical function [5], [6]. This condition may negatively affect daily life or social interactions and may originate from intense emotions, including anxiety or sadness. However, experiencing extreme or prolonged sadness does not necessarily mean that a person is depressed. Furthermore, research indicates that the presence of sadness is not required for a depression diagnosis [6]. Individuals may also be given different diagnoses such as major depression, major depressive disorder, or clinical depression.

Although sadness may not always be identified as the underlying cause of depression, it does not mean other signs should be disregarded as depressive symptoms, severity, and duration may vary [6]. Any persistent emotional or physical changes that reduce quality of life warrant a consultation with a healthcare professional.

What Are Silent Symptoms of Depression?

Research has identified silent symptoms of depression, which include the following [1], [4], [5], [6]:

  • Lack of energy — Low energy levels upon waking or rapidly losing energy throughout the day
  • Anhedonia — The general loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities or the reduced ability to feel pleasure
  • Overworking — Focusing on continuous tasks or overworking to divert and prevent racing thoughts
  • Loss of interest in personal care — Suddenly neglecting personal hygiene (e.g., bathing irregularly, washing hair infrequently, brushing teeth inefficiently, or dressing inappropriately)
  • Social withdrawal — Avoiding social events, meeting with friends or loved ones, or communicating with other people (e.g., work colleagues, academic peers)
  • Excessive fatigue — Constantly feeling tired, wanting to sleep for long periods of time, and feeling exhausted after sleeping
  • Intense mood swings — Experiencing persistent mood fluctuations such as anxiousness, agitation, nervousness, irritability, hopelessness, or sadness
  • Pessimism — Consistently expressing negative thoughts and expecting adverse events or situations to occur
  • Low self-esteem — Expressing feeling worthless, hopeless, resentment, or failure
  • Poor eating habits and sleep disturbances — Eating too much or too little and experiencing insomnia or a desire to sleep all day
  • Substance abuse — Using or consuming excessive amounts of alcohol, prescription medication, or recreational drugs to subdue symptoms

Depression is a multifaceted condition that may cause a range of emotional or physical symptoms. Speaking with a mental health care provider is the best way to receive an accurate diagnosis.

How To Approach a Loved One Who May Be Suffering from Depression

When a loved one displays signs of depression, it may be tempting to try to help him or her address the potential issues that may be contributing to their symptoms. It is important to offer support for loved ones who may be suffering from depression, but an ideal way to provide help is by encouraging your loved one to speak with a professional who is trained to diagnose and treat mental health issues. 

In addition, try to avoid becoming a substitute for a therapist as this may be overwhelming for both you and your loved one. It may also delay appropriate treatment. Be careful to look for the onset of more serious symptoms such as self-harm or suicidal ideations, as these actions necessitate emergency intervention. Contacting a mental health specialist on your loved one’s behalf is imperative in this type of situation.

What Should You Do If You Think You May Have Depression?

If you think you may be dealing with depression, it is important to seek the professional opinion of a specialist such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist. A depressed mood not only affects cognitive, social, and emotional health, but also makes it harder to carry out certain behaviors or challenging activities efficiently [1]. Furthermore, depression is a complex condition that tends to be progressive and this means that seeking prompt treatment is vital.

Speaking with a healthcare professional about depression may be difficult, but it is important to remember that silent depression can lead to serious emotional and physical complications without treatment. There are also useful resources that can help you decide whether it is time to schedule an appointment with a mental health professional.

Dr. TMS Therapy Griffith Psychiatry developed a quick, 3-minute depression test that helps you assess your symptoms. If you’re experiencing mood changes, feelings of guilt, anxiety, or physical issues you are worried about, take this easy test to determine whether your symptoms may be linked to depression.

In addition to taking the depression test, you can discuss the benefits of TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) therapy for improved mental health with one of our dedicated experts by booking a consultation today. Don’t let silent depression disrupt your quality of life.

Contact our clinic if you want to learn more about depression treatment options.

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Walter G. Griffith Jr., MD, PA


Dr. Griffith earned his Undergraduate Degree from Notre Dame University and his Medical Degree from Ohio State University’s College of Medicine. He then completed his Residency in Psychiatry at Ohio’s prestigious Cleveland Clinic, and ultimately became the Chief Resident at the Cleveland Clinic in his final year of residency. After completing his residency, Dr. Griffith moved with his family to sunny Florida in 1992, where he worked at several hospitals in the early days of his career, but, ultimately, he decided to start his own outpatient Psychiatric Private Practice in Florida, where he has been working and growing the practice over the last three decades. Dr. Griffith is the Medical Director for the medical practice and oversees all of the medical clinicians who work in the practice in order to help manage the growing patient caseload at both of the medical office locations.

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