How To Know If You’re Suffering from High Functioning Depression

Depression doesn’t always look the way you think it should. In fact, it can be invisible to everyone else around you. Even those suffering may not realize there is a name for what they are feeling. But there is a name. Medical professionals call it high functioning depression.

Picture a freshly graduated college student, holding an offer letter for their first job. On the cusp of starting their dream career. It’s everything they have talked about, becoming reality.

A stay at home mom, raising 2 children after a battle with infertility. Creating the home life she imagined for so long. Love for her family overflows in everything she does. Her arms and heart are full.

The high-powered executive. Always on, positive, and energetic. Leading the masses to exceed every performance goal they set. A mentor to those around him due to his success in business.

You would never assume any of these people were suffering from depression. We are conditioned to believe it looks a certain way. Yet, depression looks different on everyone. Even those that outwardly appear to have it all together can be suffering.

The mental health profession coined the term “high functioning depression” for this exact reason.

What Is High Functioning Depression

Webster defines depression as a mental disorder characterized by sadness, feelings of inadequacy, and an inability to concentrate. It can have a significant impact on a person’s ability to function normally.

Like many disorders, depression occurs on a spectrum. Those with “high functioning” depression can continue in their daily lives with, what would appear to be, little to no impact. It is as if they can compartmentalize that part of their life temporarily, as needed.

We All Wear Masks

What you didn’t see from the college student is the tremendous anxiety he feels about the decisions he is making for his future. He often worries about making the wrong decision and even wonders if it’s what he wants at all. The weight of these decisions is hard to carry. Those around him have such high expectations, what if he disappoints them?

The mother is lonely. She feels guilty because life as a stay-at-home mom isn’t what she thought it would be. Sometimes she feels trapped and unfulfilled, though she continues to smile and give her all because it’s what her family needs. What would people think if they knew she was drowning?

The executive is exhausted. He is constantly questioning if the people around him really like him, or if it’s all a charade. His life is built on hard work, so what happens if he fails? There is so much pressure to succeed, he is terrified to let anything interfere. He even shuts out friends and family because he is so busy.

No two people experience depression in the same way. How long it lasts, what brings it on, and where it stems from are unique. Sometimes, people don’t even realize they have it. Therefore, it can be difficult to pinpoint and manage without help.

Doctors have identified 9 different depressive disorders. It is possible to experience each in a “high functioning” state. This is why it’s important to know the signs and pay attention to your symptoms.

Signs of High Functioning Depression

When it comes right down to it, the typical symptoms of depression you would expect are still the same:

  • Emptiness, numbness, or being devoid of emotion
  • General feelings of hopelessness, sadness or being down
  • Disinterest in activities or life events
  • Heaviness, like a physical weight is on your shoulders
  • Fatigue, low energy
  • Inability to sleep or insomnia
  • Lack of appetite or overeating
  • Poor concentration and inability to focus
  • Struggle to make decisions
  • Self-critical leading to feelings of worthlessness

People can seem to perform normally in everyday situations. On the outside, it would appear as if they are happy and doing well. Their struggle is internal, hidden. Therefore, it can come as a surprise to those around them when they are diagnosed with depressive disorders.

The bigger surprise can even be for those diagnosed. Knowing you can “hold it all together” makes you less likely to see the magnitude of the problem. There is a false sense of being able to conquer it simply by giving a little more effort. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

The worst part is the stigma that exists surrounding depression and mental illness in general. While there is a public push to change that image, people fear being viewed as weak or sick. This makes it more difficult to ask for help and seek treatment.

Depression, even “high functioning” depression, isn’t something to ignore.

Treating High Functioning Depression

When it comes right down to it, professional help is a must! A doctor can be objective and has the necessary tools for proper support. With help, depression can be properly managed.

Talking with a psychiatrist can help determine the cause and identify appropriate coping mechanisms. The process of opening up can greatly improve the patient’s situation making life feel more manageable. This is done in a private setting.

In some cases, medication is prescribed. Antidepressants help by balancing chemicals in your brain that impact mood. This will improve the ability to manage emotions, sleep, increase appetite, and improve focus.

Some patients even report a need to try a couple of different medications or dosage levels before finding the right solution. It takes time and communication with your doctor, but the time invested is worth it.

If any of this sounds familiar or you wonder if you may have high functioning depression, please contact your doctor. Asking for help is the bravest thing you can do. You are worth it!


author avatar
Angel Rivera
I am a Bilingual (Spanish) Psychiatrist with a mixture of strong clinical skills including Emergency Psychiatry, Consultation Liaison, Forensic Psychiatry, Telepsychiatry and Geriatric Psychiatry training in treatment of the elderly. I have training in EMR records thus very comfortable in working with computers. I served the difficult to treat patients in challenging environments in outpatient and inpatient settings
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