How to Know If Someone Is Faking Depression

Faking Depression
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Question:  My co-worker has been missing a lot of work and she says it's because she has depression.  The other day I was at the mall on my lunch break and saw her out shopping with her sister and not really looking all that depressed.  This makes me upset because I've been working overtime trying to take up the slack while she's out from work.  I do have a lot of sympathy for people who have a mental illness, but I don't want to get taken advantage of either.  I'm considering telling our boss what I saw.  Could it be that she is faking her depression?

Answer:  I completely understand why you might feel upset about what you saw.  Going by external appearances only, it's very easy to think that your friend might be faking her illness.  However, what we really have is only a moment in time.  What matters most in determining whether she has depression too severe to attend work is what her life is like overall.  Perhaps she had great difficulty falling asleep the night before and wasn't able to get out of bed until just before you saw her? Maybe she was only at the mall because her sister dragged her along hoping to help her feel better.  It's really impossible for us to know just based on seeing her for a few moments whether she is indeed depressed.

What I can tell you is that depression tends to be an invisible illness.  Many of its symptoms are mental and emotional and its signs are not always obvious to the casual observer.   People with depression often look completely normal on the outside because they become very good at pulling themselves together while out in public, putting on a false smile to hide the turmoil that they feel inside.  Then, when they are all alone, they fall apart.

Symptoms ​to Watch For

Even though depression can be difficult to detect, if you look really closely, you may be able to see some of its signs in your coworker.  Does she ever:

  • Seem to have trouble thinking, remembering things or making decisions?
  • Seem really tired and lacking in energy?
  • Talk about feeling guilty, worthless or helpless?
  • Seem really hopeless or pessimistic about life?
  • Have problems getting good sleep?
  • Seem irritable or restless?
  • Seem to not be interested in things that she used to enjoy like hobbies?
  • Seem to be losing or gaining weight without trying?
  • Complain of pain, headaches or digestive problems that don't seem to get better even with treatment?
  • Seem sad or anxious?
  • Talk about suicide or not wanting to be around anymore?

If she seems to exhibit several of these signs, then it is quite possible that she really is telling the truth about her condition.  Perhaps the best thing you can do, rather than telling your boss what you saw, is to reach out to your co-worker and offer your support.  If she really is faking her depression then this will soon become clear.  If, however, she is genuinely depressed, the chances are good that she really could use a friend.

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