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High-Functioning Depression: Essential Insights to Manage the Hidden Struggle


An Invisible But Serious Condition

High-functioning depression refers to a depressive disorder that strongly impacts at least one area of your life while you are still able to function well in others. The term isn’t a diagnosis but a description of a subset of the population with a depressive disorder. If you are struggling with depression symptoms but doubt you need mental health treatment because you appear to others to be doing well, know that it’s still important for you to find support. There are many options for treating high-functioning depression, and the sooner you find resources, the higher your likelihood of full mental health recovery.

High-functioning depression is most commonly associated with those who have persistent depressive disorder and silently suffer. Many over-function at work or home to mask their symptoms if they are concerned about burdening others or ashamed of their condition. Reasons why some people deny their depression symptoms and don’t access treatment include:

  • Fear of others’ judgment
  • Lack of information about symptoms and treatment
  • Lack of time or money to access resources and treatment
  • Family, cultural, or religious discomfort with mental health struggles
  • Prohibitive workplace environments and policies that prevent access to healthcare
  • Personality traits that make it more difficult to engage or involve others in personal matters
  • Feeling like a burden to others or undeserving of treatment (a symptom of depression)
  • Denial of the impact of your symptoms

It’s important to know that being able to cover your symptoms doesn’t mean that your depression is mild. Those with severe depression who work hardest to ignore it are at higher risk of worsening and becoming non-resistant to treatment. Addressing your symptoms as soon as you experience them significantly improves your prognosis.

What Is High-Functioning Depression?

While functioning highly in some areas of your life reduces some of the challenging impacts of depression, the hidden nature of this struggle often prevents others from understanding how you’re feeling. As a result, they don’t offer the extra support you need during this time, increasing your risk.

If you have severe depression and can still carry out daily activities, it’s even more important to share your symptoms with your family, friends, doctor, and/or a therapist who will not otherwise see outward signs of a struggle. Connections with family members and friends who know you well are even more important than usual. Helping professionals can share resources and mental health treatment options, make recommendations based on your needs, and offer support as you explore the most effective options. 

13 High-Functioning Depression Symptoms

Thirteen high-functioning depression symptoms include persistent:

  1. Anger and irritability
  2. Sadness
  3. Exhaustion
  4. Feeling ashamed, burdensome, worthless, or guilty
  5. Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
  6. Insomnia or sleeping too much
  7. Unexplained physical problems and pain
  8. Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased cravings for food and weight gain
  9. Anxiety or restlessness
  10. Slowed thinking, speaking, or physical movement
  11. Feeling ashamed, burdensome, worthless, or guilty
  12. Difficulty thinking, focusing, and remembering
  13. Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, or suicide

signs of high functioning depression

Is There a Link Between High-Functioning Depression and Anxiety?

There is a strong link between High-Functioning Depression and anxiety, as depression and anxiety are the most commonly diagnosed comorbid conditions. This means that if you have both conditions, it’s important to be treated for the symptoms of each condition at the same time so that they don’t exacerbate each other. This makes full recovery most likely.

People with high-functioning depression and anxiety often internalize their emotions. On the outside, you may:

  • Take too much responsibility for others’ behaviors and experiences
  • Overachieve
  • Show signs of perfectionism in your work
  • Expect too much of yourself and/or others
  • Mask your symptoms with smiles or excess enthusiasm
  • Work harder and longer hours than others
  • Seek external rewards to make up for your low sense of self

While the stigma about seeking mental health care is decreasing, many workplace policies still don’t offer coverage for such care or time off to receive it. This rewards people with high-functioning depression and anxiety to continue to hide their symptoms. The high discrepancy between how you feel and how you act creates even more stress because it takes so much energy to keep up the act while depression is reducing your energy. A vicious cycle between overwork and high external rewards often incentivizes employees to hide their mental health struggles. 

10 Reasons Why People Should Get Help for High-Functioning Depression

Our mental and physical health is strongly connected, so addressing your mental health needs as quickly as possible significantly benefits your overall well-being. Inflammation involved in depression can cause degeneration and changes in your brain, ultimately making treatment less effective now and if it recurs. Though sometimes untreated depression lifts, it’s less likely to do so in adults than in children and teenagers. The earlier you begin treatment, the more likely you will fully recover from your symptoms and the less likely you’ll experience them again. 

The impact depression has on other factors in addition to your brain health can be significant. The benefits of treatment include:

  • Balanced brain chemistry
  • Healthy appetite
  • Improved sleep
  • More energy
  • Less irritability or anger
  • Heightened ability to focus
  • Healthier relationships
  • Restored enjoyment of activities and people you enjoy
  • Higher sense of self-worth
  • Lessened risk of depression-related physical illness

12 Tips to Manage High-Functioning Depression

There are many options for managing high-functioning depression. Effective self-care measures include:

  • Prioritize improving your sleep.

  • Create a daily routine
  • Reduce or eliminate caffeine and alcohol
  • Increase Vitamin D intake by being in the sun or taking a supplement
  • Make time to connect regularly with people who care about you
  • Learn to practice mindfulness and meditation techniques
  • Move your body
  • Reduce stress by practicing deep breathing and muscle relaxation
  • Express your feelings through writing or art

Others require the help of a professional:

  • Find a psychotherapist or mental health treatment center that specializes in depression treatment.
  • Explore medication options with a doctor or psychiatrist.
  • Join a support group to connect with others recovering from depression.

The combination of psychotherapy, self-care measures, and medication has proven highly effective for most patients in resolving their depression symptoms.

Alter Behavioral Health Can Help With High-Functioning Depression in California

If you have high-functioning depression, a high-quality outpatient or inpatient mental health center can offer the safe space and professional resources you deserve as you heal. Contact Alter Behavioral Health™ to find out how our mental health treatment centers California can support you in your next recovery steps. There is hope for your healing and professionals waiting to help.

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