High-functioning depression is a form of depression that occurs in the combination of certain personalities as well as symptoms. While major depressive disorder, the most common form of depression, is known to be debilitating and often causes a decline in workplace attendance and performance as well as legitimate disability, depression is more of a sliding scale than a Yes or No. Depression is characterized as a consistently low mood, potentially with other symptoms like self-deprecating thoughts, and thoughts of suicide. Many Americans experience depressive episodes in their lives, despite living ‘perfectly normal’ lives, with successful careers and many daily obligations. However, high-functioning depression usually refers to a milder, yet constant form of depression also known as PDD (persistent depressive disorder).
The first sign of depression is a low mood lasting longer than two weeks. However, to avoid misdiagnosing someone sad as someone mentally ill, every case of depression requires a professional’s personal examination and conclusion. And there are people who are diagnosed as depressed yet continue to lead their lives. Not all forms of depression as debilitating, but that does not make them less valid. A high-functioning depression may also lead to some unique difficulties.
You Don’t Seem Depressed
One of the most common complaints among people struggling with high-functioning depression is the fact that their depression cannot be acknowledged or recognized, for fear of being misunderstood, seen as lazy, entitled, or whiny. If you can do your job, support a family, and continue to live your life just as everyone else does, how does a diagnosis of depression even affect you, let alone seem valid in the light of everything you get done in spite of said diagnosis?
Yet there is an unseen, underlying tone of pain that individuals with high-functioning depression continue to bear silently. Not seeming depressed does not mean the experience is easy, even when it should be. Stress is one thing – it’s a part of life and gets to everyone at one point or another. But to bear that stress and additional thoughts of worthlessness, hopelessness, self-deprecation, and constant doubt is something else. People with high-functioning depression don’t look like they’re struggling, but they are.
Just Cheer Up
The risk inherent in working hard to hide the pain is that it continues to grow, and often encourages people to refrain from seeking help for it. Instead, you may feel that if you just try a little harder to feel better, it’ll be okay. Or worse yet, you seek alternative means of dealing with your thoughts, from excessive boozing to indulging in risky behavior as a form of escapism, or worse.
If you’re constantly told you’re not depressed because, despite what you think or feel, you act fine and healthy, then you’re much less likely to seek out help. And that can be dangerous, as depressive thoughts evolve and fester without proper attention. ‘Just cheer up’ is not sound medical advice and may do more harm than good. If you feel that the way you’ve been feeling sounds eerily similar to depression, and if you’ve been feeling that way consistently for several months, then seek help.
Take a Day
A day is not enough. The treatment for high-functioning depression is not somehow shorter or, in a sense, ‘easier’ than the treatment for any other form of depression. How you respond to treatment depends on any number of factors, and it may take several weeks for symptoms to improve.
Just taking a short break from the stress may temporarily alleviate some of the pressure you’re experiencing, but the goal to permanently alleviating depression is a continued change in how you live. Depression comes and goes, and may require antidepressant use, lifestyle changes, regular therapy sessions, alternative treatments, or all of the above.
Support Can Be Hard to Accept
Hear something long enough, and you begin to internalize it. One of the major troubles with high-functioning depression is constant doubt. Doubt in the idea that a person with depression wouldn’t be showing obvious signs of struggle in their day-to-day lives. In that sense, it’s easy to reflect on your depression and consider: am I really depressed, or just lazy?
It’s a dangerous thought because it feeds into an established cycle – in the presence of depression, people are more likely to have (and believe) negative thoughts, which in turn reinforce the depression. As such, it can be difficult to accept help.
High-functioning depression does not mean you’re depressed and OK. It means you’re depressed, and you still need help. Depression treatment can help you better deal with your day-to-day stress, and eliminate the invisible suffering you experience on a daily basis.
You Can Be Functioning and Depressed
The most important takeaway is to understand that high-functioning depression is not an oxymoron. There is more than one form of depression, more than one experience regarding depression, and more than one way to deal with the effects of depression.
Depression can be disabling – in fact, it is one of the leading causes of disability in the United States. However, that does not mean that it always debilitates us. People are incredibly individual, and the way we experience our own lives is highly subjective. Mental illnesses develop on a spectrum – rather than placing one person’s experiences in a drawer alongside other people’s experiences, it’s important to recognize that the symptoms and the person are separate, and together, they create a unique case. Depression exists as major depressive disorder, dysthymia, PMDD, and a long series of other related depressive disorders.
You don’t have to show all the symptoms of a mental illness to be diagnosed with it – if a professional can help you determine that you are indeed struggling with something beyond the normal scope of the human experience, then it’s real.
Many Americans experience an episode of major depression and feel unable to work or function normally – and some experience milder symptoms of what is definitely diagnosable as a depression, and continue to live their lives, only showing ‘weakness’ in their most private and personal moments.
This isn’t a matter of choice, though. People who suffer from severe depression cannot simply ‘do as well’ as people with high-functioning depression. It’s not a matter of willpower. However, depression is more than one disorder.