What is High-Functioning Depression?

When most of us think of depression, we think of a person who is incredibly sad, constantly crying, and cannot even get out of their pajamas and bed.  We think of the person who cannot function at all.  Yes, that is how depression can look.  However, in many other cases, a person who is feeling down, not as interested in previously enjoyed activities, or experiencing any of the common depression symptoms is still able to go to work, get high grades in school, raise kids, run errands, and accomplish many day-to-day tasks.  On the inside, this person does not feel their “best”; perhaps they do not laugh at jokes or the television as much, feel tired, have negative thinking, and feel out of sorts.  We call this ‘high-functioning depression.’  There are several difficulties with this type of depression:

  1. Due to the lack of obvious, behavioral symptoms, it is an invisible illness.  This means that family, friends, and coworkers do not recognize the person is struggling.
  2. The person may also not realize the extent of their own struggle, as many often resort to defining depression as “the person who cannot get out of bed.”   They may feel undeserving of help or possibly even not recognize their own symptoms.
  3. A high-functioning depressed person may feel incredibly lonely even when surrounded by many people. They may be highly reluctant at sharing what they are feeling; if they do share, others may downplay the impact of their mood symptoms as they appear to functioning well or well enough.
  4. The depressed person may downplay their own need to seek help – the “it’s not serious enough to get help” mentality.
  5. Many go for years, or their whole life, without treatment.  While remaining relatively functional, this can lessen their quality of life, satisfaction from otherwise meaningful accomplishments and activities, and create social, academic, and occupational problems.

We all know these people.  Perhaps you even self-identify with this post.  Mental illness comes in all shapes and sizes.  Just because you don’t fit into the exact mold of how we commonly describe depression does not lessen the importance of your struggle or its impact on your life.  As a psychologist, I regularly see people who are very high functioning but who struggle with depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns.  In fact, the majority of my practice are these types of patients!  

I tell all my patients this, and I cannot stress it enough: as a living, breathing human, it is completely normal to experience depression. All humans experience depression from time to time.  There is a reason that depression affects approximately 6.7 percent of the United States population over age 18 and it is the leading cause of disability for Americans ages 15 to 44.3.  To the untrained eye, these people seem to have their lives together and to be in good spirits.  However, on the inside, there is healing to be done.  Don’t let yourself suffer in silence any longer.  There are extremely effective therapies that can help.  If you would like more information on depression, please check out this informational page.