We often tend to overlook high-functioning depression as sufferers seem to be high achievers and live the perfect life. However, behind their happy faces they might be more depressed than we realize.
What is high-functioning depression?
It can be really hard to spot someone living with such type of depression. They may have a great job and be really good at it, they may have loving relationships, they may be socially active and may even pursue their passions and interests. But beneath all of that, they may feel like they are breaking apart. They may feel miserable, angry, stressed, frustrated, unhappy, unmotivated, depressed and even suicidal. This is why it can often be difficult to understand people suffering from high-functioning depression.
It is a form of mental illness that can include most of the symptoms of depression, yet it may not affect your ability to live an active life or perform daily tasks effectively. Although they may be good at hiding their condition from their loved ones and others, some of the common symptoms of high-functioning depression can include:
- Feeling anxious, sad or empty constantly
- Feelings helplessness and worthlessness
- Getting annoyed and irritated easily
- Being restless
- Being pessimistic
- Reduced energy and feeling tired and fatigued
- Feeling hopeless and guilty
- Headaches, digestive problems, pains, cramps etc
- Changes in appetite and sleep patterns
- Suicidal thoughts and tendencies
Understanding people with high-functioning depression
Depression affects different people in different ways. Although we usually imagine someone with depression to be sad, upset and lacking energy, people with high-functioning depression may appear fine from the outside. Yet the crippling mental and emotional turmoil they face inside may be slowly pushing them towards taking their own lives. Psychotherapist and author Jodi Aman explains “Depression affects all personalities and can look very different in various people. A highly functioning person can be suffering invisibly too.”
This is why it becomes even more difficult to know if someone you know is suffering from high-functioning depression. They can be productive at work, be loving and supportive in relationships and easily carry out daily tasks and chores. And perhaps this is why no one can hear their inner screams for help.
It was reported that in 2016 around 16.2 million US citizens experienced at least one episode of major depression. Although these statistics show the volume of people who have depression, the experience of depression varies from person to person. Hence, it may not be obvious to us when a friend or family member is suffering from depression. This is the reason why we need to talk about high-functioning depression and spread awareness.
Psychotherapist Mayra Mendez, PhD adds “Depression may inhibit the desire for activity and action, but high functioning individuals tend to forge ahead in an effort to succeed with goals. The drive to accomplish often sustains action and moves high-functioning individuals towards getting things done.”
“Some people with depression can’t go to work or school, or their performance suffers significantly because of it. That’s not the case for people with high-functioning depression. They can still function in life, for the most part,” explains licensed clinical social worker Ashley C. Smith.
Overlooking high functioning depression
Our biggest mistake is perhaps that we try to match depression with certain symptoms like lack of motivation, feelings of sadness, hopelessness, fatigue and withdrawal from others. However, depression can manifest in so many different ways in each of us that we ourselves might now realize that the reason we feel so burdened is due to depression. So a person who might seem happy and outgoing might be secretly depressed.
According to a post in Harvard University’s Students in Mental Health Research, “Individuals diagnosed with ‘persistent depressive disorder’ experience lower-level symptoms that allow them to be high functioning. They can engage productively in classes, activities, and friends.” And perhaps this is why it is often difficult to identify the symptoms of depression in such individuals by their friends and family and even themselves. Persistent depressive disorder creates a cumulative negative pressure which can be as damaging as any major depressive disorder.
Amanda Leventhal, writer and psychology graduate from the University of Missouri, explains “If we keep allowing our perception of what mental illness looks like to dictate how we go about recognizing and treating it, we will continue to overlook those who don’t fit the mold.” She adds “We cannot keep forgetting that there are people out there who, though they may not be able to check off every symptom on the list, are heavily and negatively affected by their mental illness. If we forget, we allow their struggle to continue unnoticed, and that is pretty scary.”