The girl with the biggest smile is sometimes the girl who is also crying silently to herself at night. She is the girl who thinks too much and feels like she can't breathe. She would get upset over things that don't seem big enough to get upset over. She is the girl who hides in bed when life gets too complicated. She is the girl who needs to talk to a therapist because she can't handle her own thoughts anymore. She's the girl who could space out for hours and not even notice. She doesn't want people to know something is wrong, but gets upset when no one asks if she's OK. She is the girl who thinks that if she fell off the face of the earth, no one would notice. The girl with the biggest smile is also the girl who is depressed.

When people look at me, the first thing they notice is my big smile. It's what I get complimented on the most. But behind that smile, there are so many more emotions than just being happy. Most people come to the conclusion that I am always happy because I'm wearing a smile...that conclusion is not always correct.Depression is not just a bad mood, it's an illness that affects more than 19 million American adults above the age of 18, according to Mental Health America. Of those 19 million Americans, 12 million are women. That means there are 12 million women out there who may walk around with a smile like mine and are battling depression beneath it.

Although the symptoms may be alike, everyone's battle with depression is different. Mine began about 3 years ago, and I didn't even realize...

When I was 16 years old, I noticed a change in myself. I was waking up upset for no reason. I would be driving home from school and randomly start sobbing. I lashed out at the people I loved over very minuscule things. I felt like no one genuinely liked me and I didn't genuinely like myself. What magnetized these emotions even more was knowing that soon I would have to decide where I was going to college and what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. As a 16-year old, I had no idea what was going on, and thought for sure I was going crazy. Instead of facing what was the truth, I slapped a smile on my face and suffered to myself. I acted overly happy to compensate for what I was actually feeling on the inside.

When I left for college, I thought my misery would just go away. I hoped that it would because I wanted everyone to think I was so happy and perfect. My transition to college was easier than I expected. I made friends right off the bat and I was able to suppress my feelings. Except, depression isn't something you can just ignore and it will go away after a few days.The thing about pain, is that it demands to be felt.

The more I tried to hide my depression, the worse it got. The pressure of school eventually got the best of me. Being in college meant that once I graduated, I would face reality. College meant trying to balance school, friends, exercise and extracurricular activities. College was supposed to be the best time of my life. It was supposed to be a time to go out and have a good time with my friends. Except since I chose not to talk about my feelings, my first year of college was not as fun as it might have looked in pictures.

I could sit in a room full of friends and not say a word. I would cry myself to sleep at night when my roommate wasn't there. I would sleep as much as possible to escape reality. I would walk to class and start crying beneath my sunglasses. Instead of talking to my friends, I distanced myself from them. I woke up feeling as though my very existence was the least important thing of all.

My misery was becoming noticeable, and since I didn't tell my friends what I was feeling, they didn't understand me. They couldn't understand why I was so upset all the time, and why the girl who was always smiling, wasn't anymore.

Last year, most of my friends walked out of my life because I was no longer fun to be around and that's when I hit rock bottom. I came home from college and finally started to expose to my parents what I was hiding behind my big smile. I started to let people in on my battle, and it wasn't easy.

Now, a year later, I am in control of my depression and I know that I can trust my loved ones enough to talk about my bad days. Talking about my bad days means that I can enjoy more of the good ones.

When I look back to last year, I can't believe how far I've come. I wish I could say that I don't have bad days anymore, but I do. The difference is that now, I have the coping mechanisms to help me deal with my pain. Over the past year, I've worked on ways to deal with my depression. I deal with it by talking to my friends and loved ones about my feelings. I let myself cry, but not wallow in my pain. I exercise to relieve stress. I write in a journal to rid my mind of harmful thoughts.

The lesson of this is to think about the people in your life and make sure you always ask if they are OK. Don't assume that because your friend is smiling because everything is perfect. Make it known to your loved ones that you are trustworthy, because trust is the most important factor for people who are depressed. Without trust, I would have never found the strength to talk about my depression.

Depression, along with any other mental illness, is nothing to be ashamed of. It's more common than we realize, which is even more reason to be kind to everyone we pass by. You never know what someone is going through, and because of that, never make assumptions about a person.