Real depression vs Fake depression

In this guide we are going to discuss the difference between real versus fake depression. We are also going to take a closer look at how we can identify people who fake depression and why they do so. 

What are some signs that distinguish real depression from fake depression?

Some signs that a person is faking being depressed for whatever reasons include:

  • Dramatic manifestation of symptoms especially when things are not going their way. 
  • Self-harm without any actual threat to them.
  • The “depression” is short-term
  • Only depressed about certain things they enjoyed in the past 
  • There is no apparent dysfunction in the ways they conduct their lives

Conversations around mental illness are becoming more mainstream and many people are now developing awareness about the occurrence and development of these disorders that impact a large number of people today. 

This trend in growing awareness has allowed open conversations around psychological problems, however there is still stigma present around mental disorders which is why it is important for us to be careful when we talk about mental illness that might be afflicting someone close to you. 

There might be certain behaviour or situations that have caused you to look into what “real” mental illness looks like and whether someone could be faking it. This is a legit concern that anyone can have and it is worth looking into.

Let us take a close look at what depression is and what it looks like when someone is depressed. 

What is depression

Depression or Major depressive disorder is a mental illness that is concerned with the mood of a person. A person who is depressed struggles with an extremely low mood with persistent sadness or feeling of emptiness. 

Other symptoms that are also observed include:

  • Irritability
  • sleep issues-insomnia or oversleeping
  • feeling slower than usual, in speech and movement
  • changes in appetite
  • weight loss or gain
  • memory and concentration difficulties
  • hopeless or pessimistic outlook
  • feelings of guilt or worthlessness

These symptoms along with suicidal ideation have to be persistent for at least two weeks for a person to be diagnosed with depression. 

Another very important criteria is that the person who has depression will also be experiencing dysfunction in various parts of their lives- such as their jobs, their relationships, and their general sense of self. 

How can we identify depression in our loved ones?

Depression, like most mental health conditions, is complex which is why the clinical diagnosis of depression is done by licensed professionals and doctors who take careful observations and tests of the client before they diagnose the client/patient of the disorder that is affecting them. 

Interestingly, depression or the manifestation of depression can be different for many people. The reason for these variations could be because of internalization of cultural norms, stigma, or denial of their conditions. 

A person who is depressed may not even be aware that they are depressed and may go through their daily routine without much thought or any outward signs. Some people even might seem happy on the outside as they engage with their roles, responsibilities, and other people.

A person who is clinically depressed or depressed without a diagnosis typically struggles with managing their relationships, they might struggle to communicate with their partners and their family, seem irritable and angry, they might even seem like they don’t care or love the person in their lives. They might even withdraw from their loved ones and isolate themselves.

They may also misuse substances as a way to cope with what they are feeling which might cause more problems in their relationships, their ability to keep up with their jobs. When it comes to occupational dysfunction, their fatigue and inability to concentrate can also cause them to fail at meeting the demands of their jobs. 

Depression also causes a person to struggle with suicidal ideation- thoghts about suicide- and may behave in ways that constitute suicidal beahviour. They might think of them in passing or be fightening by their intrusiveness or even begin to make plans around it. 

However, depression is often represented in such a stereotypical manner of gloom and doom that many people do not realize that a depressed person can smile and laugh to put up a front, to avoid the stigma that often follows mental health disorders.

This can cause a lot of confusion to anyone who is observing them and might even suspect that the person might be faking depression. However, we should not be quick to confront them without understanding why someone could be led to fake being depressed.

Faking depression

Faking depression or faking a mental disorder in itself can reflect a problem that the person might be facing which is why it is important to approach this issue with compassion and empathy. 

There are many reasons why a person might fake a disorder, three main reasons could be:

  • In order to gain something- be it empathy, pity, monetary rewards, disability insurance, community support, or simple recognition. 
  • In order to avoid negative consequences such as incarceration 
  • They could also have a mental health issue 

This particular phenomenon of faking a disorder is called malingering. 

Why do some people fake depression?

The reason why some people fake depression or mental illness can be explained by the phenomenon of malingering. 

Malingering is the behaviour of fabricating symptoms of depression (or another mental health condition) in order to avoid work, military service, or jury duty or to obtain something such as prescription medications or getting some form of material or personal reward.

So a person who fakes depression might be doing it to either gain something or to avoid something else- it is done with an agenda and it is caused by situational factors such as avoiding responsibility or trying to gain monetary rewards. 

It is not a diagnosable disorder and has not been recognised by the APA. Malignation in depression can be difficult to identify since many of the symptoms of depression are easy to emulate, especially if a person is aware of the condition and its symptoms.

Another reason why someone might be thought to be faking a mental health disorder or depression is because they could be struggling with what is known as factitious disorder. 

 A factitious disorder involves faking symptoms of an illness without a clear motive or reward. Oftentimes, people with this order do things that lead to them developing the symptoms by themselves. 

Factitious disorders or faking depression can be a sign of underlying psychological reasons such as trauma and emotional dysfunction, they may also be struggling with attachment issues which cause them to act and behave in certain ways. 

Because of the fact that faking depression could be related to another issue wholly, you must approach the subject with empathy and compassion if you wish to help them.

It is difficult to estimate how common it is for people to fake depression or other mental illnesses, although it is observed to happen more frequently in specific contexts, particularly in criminal and legal settings to avoid incarceration. 

Signs that someone is faking depression

Dr. Prena Kholi has highlighted some signs that can help to identify when someone is faking depression or a mental illness. They are as follows:

  • Manifesting symptoms in dramatic ways when something is refused to them, a person who is faking these symptoms could simply be someone who has been socialized to accept rejection from others. 

While they may not have depression, they might have deep held beliefs about themselves and others which might lead them to be unable to accept when others refuse them.

For example, if someone has been rejected by a romantic interest, they might feign being mentally ill as a way to get the other person to stay with them because of their fears of abandonment. 

  • Self-harm which is superficial meaning that there is no inherent threat to them. However, it is important to understand that the reason why they resort to self harm is because they are unable to regulate their emotions in adaptive ways which causes immense distress. 

They might engage in self harm as it might be the only way they know how to regulate their hurt and pain or fears and the only way they can let others know that they are struggling. 

  • The “depression” is short-term

For depression to be diagnosable, the symptoms of depression must last for more than 14 days consecutively. A person who might be sad or have low moods for only a few days cannot be diagnosed with depression.

  • Only depressed about certain things they enjoyed in the past

A person who seems to be “depressed” only about certain things in their lives may simply be unable to move past the good days. Usually people may struggle to accept their present conditions and hold tight to their “glory days’ ‘ which can make them unable to engage with life in the present. 

While this may not be something to be alarmed about as depression tends to consume every aspect of their lives and not just a certain aspect of the past, it might quickly develop into depression or another mental illness if intervention to help the person live their present is not made.

Should you confront someone who seems to be faking depression?

A person who is faking mental illness or depression may be doing it for some underlying reason. If they are a loved one and you want to support them, you can sit them down and have a discussion about it.

Before getting them to have a sit down chat with you, remember that they are going through something which is why they could be doing this. Be aware of what you say and do and how you react to them. 

It is very important that you reach out to them with empathy, willingness to understand and not judge, and be clear in your intent to help them if they want your help. 

Be clear of the boundaries between the both of you no matter how important they are to you. It’s not your responsibility to solve this person’s issue – whether it’s clinical depression or not

But make it clear that you are here to listen and provide support. 

Frequently asked questions related to “Real depression vs Fake depression:

How do you know if someone is faking a mental illness?

Some indications of faking mental illness can include exaggerating existing symptoms, making up medical histories, tampering with medical tests. Their patterns for behaviour may also become exaggerated in certain selective situations when there is some reward for them- be it monetary reward or simply empathy from others.

Is being depressed real?

Depression is a real illness that researchers believe is caused mainly by imbalances in certain chemicals within your brain called neurotransmitters. It could also be caused by trauma and negative life experiences in addition to vulnerability in your nuerobiology.

Why do people pretend with depressed?

In general, there are two possible reasons why faking depression might take place: When someone feels that they have something to gain from a particular diagnosis or that they actually have psychological issues that lead them to behave like they are depressed when they are not.

Is faking mental illnesses a mental illness?

Faking a mental illness to extreme degrees where a person actively plan their lives around this faking of an illness is an actual diagnosable mental disorder called Factitious Disorder where someone is knowingly deceiving others by creating illness or ailments, physically and/or psychologically, but may not know the underlying reason why.

How can you tell if someone is faking an illness?

Some of the telling signs where you can tell someone is faking an illness are:

  • Extensive and deep knowledge of medical terms
  • Inconsistent symptoms or symptoms that arise only in certain situations
  • Conditions that get worse for no apparent reason.
  • No response to treatment as expected 
  • Seeking treatment from many different doctors or hospitals, which may include using a fake identity.

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