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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Barsky

Defining High Functioning Depression—What Is It?

High functioning depression is a term we’ve been hearing a lot more of in recent years. It’s a term used to describe those who suffer the symptoms of depression on the inside, but otherwise go about their day-to-day tasks seemingly without difficulty.

Depression is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental health disorders in America. While millions of people report experiencing at least one depressive episode in a given year, how people experience it varies. It may not always be obvious that someone is experiencing depression. However, just because someone with high functioning depression still does a great job at work or in school doesn’t mean their mental state should go ignored.

What Is High Functioning Depression?

As mentioned, high functioning depression is when someone still goes on to complete daily tasks and achieve goals despite struggling with depression. They don’t experience a significant impairment in one or more areas of their life. Significant impairment might include inability to hold a job or being unable to maintain relationships.

Often, high functioning depression is an invisible struggle. Many tend to think, “They’re successful. What could they possibly be depressed about?” But this can create a sense of shame. It’s important to talk about depression in all its forms, regardless of outward appearances. What’s important to remember is that “high functioning” is not the same thing as “fully functioning”.

While high functioning depression is not a clinically recognized term, those who experience it often get a diagnosis of persistent depressive disorder (PDD, previously called dysthymia), which is a clinically recognized type of depression. With PDD, people experience the symptoms of depression less severely, but for long periods of time (occurring most days for at least 2 years).

Since the symptoms are less severe, the person appears to be able to function normally, keeping up with responsibilities and engaging in social activities. However, the symptoms still exist, can affect quality of life, and there is still some impairment. Some symptoms include:

  • Changes in appetite

  • Too little or too much sleep

  • Fatigue

  • Low self-esteem

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Feeling sad and hopeless

  • Feelings of shame or guilt

Living with high functioning depression may feel like:

  • Your low mood is always there

  • You’re tired all the time

  • You feel worthless

  • Focusing on tasks is a challenge

  • Completing tasks takes a large amount of energy

Who Is at Risk of High Functioning Depression?

We often see signs of high functioning depression in those with “type A” personalities. These people tend to struggle with perfectionism and may be “people pleasers”. In a way, their mental health struggle fuels them to achieve. However, it’s not a healthy source of fuel. High functioning depression is also often seen in people of color due to stigmas that imply reaching out for help makes a person “weak”.

Depending on the person, there could be a variety of risk factors or triggers including:

  • Financial struggle

  • High levels of stress

  • Loss of a loved one

  • Family history

  • Other mental conditions

  • Physical conditions

  • Trauma

It’s important to note that while these may be common triggers, depression doesn’t always have to require a trigger in every single case.

Treating High Functioning Depression

As with other types of depression, treatment can include therapy, medication, or a combination of the two. Many find therapy incredibly beneficial because it provides a safe space for them to express their feelings, address their beliefs, identify potential triggers, and develop healthy coping mechanisms.

If you are someone who is experiencing high functioning depression, don’t hesitate to reach out today. You are worthy of support and healing. If you’re experiencing any suicidal thoughts or considering self-harm, seek support immediately.

For more information on therapy for depression, click the link!


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