Depression comes in many forms, and not everyone experiences this mental health condition in the same way. While some people may find themselves unable to get out of bed in the morning when living with major depressive disorder, others are high functioning. But what does it mean to have high-functioning depression, and how is this diagnosed and treated? Find out when to seek help and how to identify depression in a high-functioning individual.
What Is Major Depressive Disorder?
Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a mood disorder that causes persistent feelings of disinterest or sadness. Around 8.4% of adults in the United States have experienced at least one depressive episode. Someone with major depressive disorder may experience the following symptoms:
- Decreased mood
- Decreased interest in activities they once enjoyed
- Low energy
- Lack of concentration
- Lack of appetite
- Inability to sleep/sleep changes
- Low self-esteem
- Suicidal thoughts
If you or someone you love is struggling with symptoms of MDD, professional help is available. It’s also possible to connect with someone 24/7 via the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988.
What Does High Functioning Mean in Mental Health?
High functioning is a broad term in mental health that generally means a person has a condition, but it’s not easily detected. The individual may be extremely aware that they’re living with the condition (such as anxiety or depression), but they’re able to perform in daily life without other people detecting it.
Essentially, someone with high-functioning depression or anxiety is capable of doing a lot of things that someone with the condition would typically be unable to do. For example, while it’s common for someone with MDD to have difficulty getting out of bed in the mornings, someone with high-functioning depression may outwardly appear to be coping well by going to work on time and completing all necessary tasks. However, they may still be internalizing the struggle and experiencing the inner dialogue of depression, resulting in low self-esteem.
What Does It Mean to Be Functionally Depressed?
Someone with high-performance depression is functionally depressed, meaning that while they’re doing everything someone without depression does daily (going to work or school, cooking meals, maintaining a standard of personal hygiene, etc.), they’re still dealing with feelings of sadness, hopelessness, isolation or desperation internally. Someone who’s functionally depressed may be misunderstood by their peers and perceived as antisocial or quiet when the person is simply retreating due to their mental health condition.
The official name for high-functioning depression is persistent depressive disorder (PDD). Around 2.5% of Americans are diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder at some point in their lives. However, this number may be lower than for MDD because the symptoms of PDD are less severe and more difficult to identify.
Why It’s Difficult to Identify High-Functioning Depression
The challenge in getting an official diagnosis for high-functioning depression is that the symptoms appear less severe. A person with PDD might seem completely fine to those around them, making it difficult for friends or family members to act as a support system and encourage a loved one to seek professional help. Even if a person with PDD realizes they’re experiencing symptoms of high-functioning depression, they may not deem them severe enough to justify seeking treatment.
What Triggers High-Functioning Depression?
There are no specific triggers that are identifiable for all individuals living with high-functioning depression. Similar to other depressive disorders, someone with PDD may find that significant life events act as triggers to their depression. Occurrences like high-stress situations, divorce, death of a loved one, financial stress, challenges at work or relationship conflicts may amplify symptoms of PDD.
High-Functioning Depression and Other Conditions
Depression, including high-functioning depression, often coincides with anxiety and vice versa. In fact, around 60% of people with anxiety may also have symptoms of depression. Someone with high-functioning depression may experience anxiety as a symptom, and someone with an anxiety disorder, like generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), may experience depression as a symptom of their condition.
Strategies for Managing High-Functioning Depression
While people with high-functioning depression may appear fine to the outside world, they still need help to improve their symptoms and quality of life. If you suspect you’re struggling with PDD or high-functioning depression, there are several coping strategies available to consider.
Talk to a doctor about incorporating physical activity into your daily routine. Exercising regularly can improve your mood and may help with symptoms of PDD.
Make some dietary adjustments to improve gut health, which is directly connected to brain health. Reduce sugar and caffeine intake, and ensure you’re drinking sufficient amounts of water daily.
Limit Use of Substances
If you’re consuming alcohol or using drugs recreationally, this may be contributing to symptoms of high-functioning depression or PDD. Reduce or limit alcohol and drug intake to better manage symptoms of depression. If you’re dealing with addiction, consider a rehabilitation or detox program to safely stop drug or alcohol use.
Develop a Support System
Surrounding yourself with a network of people who understand your condition and are supportive is key to managing high-functioning depression or PDD. Confide in someone you trust about the symptoms you’re experiencing and how they affect your daily life. This is especially important with high-functioning depression, because the people around you may not realize what you’re going through.
Talk to a Professional Therapist
Reach out to a professional therapist, psychotherapist, psychologist, psychiatrist or counselor to discuss treatment options, coping strategies and more. They may be able to recommend talk therapy techniques, medication or lifestyle adjustments to improve your quality of life.
The Stigma Surrounding High-Functioning Depression
There are many misconceptions about high-functioning depression. People might think:
- You’re not really suffering
- You’re able to talk about it easily
- It’s mild
- You’re not at risk of self-harm
- It’s just feeling sad
These common misconceptions about high-functioning depression are just that — untrue statements that don;t reflect the condition. Just like MDD, PDD presents real risks and challenges. It can interfere with your daily life and requires professional support.
When to Seek Help
If your depression is affecting you on a daily basis, never discount the severity of the condition. Professional help is available at Restore Mental Health with just a phone call. Contact us today and speak to our team of counselors about treatment options.