9 Signs You’re Living With High Functioning Depression & Coping Strategies

September 30, 2021

You get up, you function fairly well in your home and work life, there is no way you could be living with depression… Think again!

We all get down once in a while;  it is entirely natural. And some of us are better at hiding our sadness than others. Although living with depression is complicated, some people do it without even acknowledging that they have depression. We all have ways to cope with things in our lives, but sometimes those coping skills can mask an underlying problem. The good news is that once you identify depression, it is highly curable. With the right tools, you don’t have to live in a state of helplessness, fear, or despair.

Statistics on High Functioning Depression

More than 6.7% of all Americans will experience at least one major depressive episode a year. But chronic high functioning depression only accounts for about 1.5% of the American population. Unlike high functioning depression, severe depression is much easier to spot. And most people dealing with it have others in their life who persuade them to get help.

But when someone suffers in silence, or even worse, works overtime to hide what is going on underneath, their road to recovery can be much more difficult. Statistics indicate that only about 62% of those who suffer from high functioning depression seek clinical treatment, while as many as 50% of those who are diagnosed can be classified as having “severe high functioning depression”.

High functioning depression is typically not an isolated mental health condition. It usually co-occurs with things like anxiety disorder, major depression, substance abuse disorder, and personality disorder.

What is a High-Functioning Depression?

If you were asked to describe what a person with depression looks like, you would probably describe someone laying in bed with the sheets pulled up over their head, withdrawn from life, sad and crying all the time. But that is not always the picture of depression. Dysthymia is different from major depression. It is a low-level chronic depression. And it is characterized by a loss of joy, a loss of desire to do things you once loved, and feelings of emptiness and hopelessness.

The high functioning depressive might look alright from the outside, get up and be productive at work, and hang out with their friends, but internally, the angst they are experiencing is diminishing their quality of life, their relationships with others, and perhaps even their career. And the symptoms that they mask with such perfection, if left untreated, are likely to turn into some greater health concern.

Signs that You’re living with high-functioning depression

1. You have a hard time experiencing or finding joy

You used to have things in your life that brought you joy like vacationing with your family or going out with the girls for dinner, but those things no longer provide you any happiness. In fact, those things you used to look forward to, are the very things that you seek to avoid because they seem as if they require too much effort.

2. Diminished energy

You wake in the morning feeling as if you are going to be walking uphill all day just to get to the end. Life seems more like a chore than a challenge and you are exhausted physically, emotionally, and mentally before your day has even begun. If you have gone from high-energy to no energy, that might be a sign that you are living with depression.

3. Irritability or excessive anger

If you used to be a pretty docile creature who didn’t get upset easily but now can explode on a dime, that might be a sign of depression. Blowing up over the small things in life or reacting with a disproportionate amount of irritability or anger are both signs of depression. To the depressed person, everything is too much, even the slightest mishaps are difficult to handle while maintaining your composure.

4. Continual feelings of worry

You worry relentlessly about your decisions, things, and the people in your life. Although we all worry about things from time to time, if you feel as if your worry list is endless and never-ending, then that might be a sign of something more than just having a worrisome personality. Often, worry and feelings of doom are a sign of depression. If your worry seems more than what others around you experience, it might be something to examine.

5. Feelings of guilt

Guilt is a human emotion that stems from feeling as if we’ve done something wrong or didn’t do enough. People experiencing depression tend to take the blame for just about everything that goes wrong. The depressed person often feels if they were better, or if they did the right thing, bad things wouldn’t have happened. They also tend not to relish in any of their accomplishments. What they weren’t able to do has a much more significant impact on their psyche than anything phenomenal they are responsible for.

6. Generalized sadness

If you feel sad most of the time without any real reason to be, then that might be a sign of depression. The high-functioning depressed person will often mask their sadness with fake smiles and a facade of happiness. Often they smile and carry on when all they really feel like doing is crying. If there isn’t much that you can find happiness in, but you smile on through it, then you might be living with depression.

7. You’ve got physical pain without a cause

If you are frequently consulting one doctor after another to diagnose generalized and persistent pain that seemingly has no cause, then that might be a red flag that you are dealing with depression. Sometimes depression can manifest both physically and mentally. So if you have a persistent backache or stiffness all over that no one can get to the root of, it might be stemming from your emotions, not your muscles and bones.

8. You feel empty

A person with functioning depression will often feel as if something is missing. Like an empty hole they simply can’t fill, they seek to find things that once made them happy, only to discover that they don’t anymore. People with high functioning depression have a constant need to make the emptiness and sadness go away. The more empty they feel, the more they use coping skills to keep it at bay until their coping skills have given way and are now their crutch. Eventually, if left untreated,  their vices won’t work either.

9. Your Friends and Family Would Never Guess That You were Dealing With Depression

One of the signs of a person with functioning depression is their ability to mask and hide it so well. To onlookers, the person with functioning depression seems happy, well adjusted, and optimistic.

What the people that love them don’t know is that they are suffering inside. Sometimes it is harder to have functioning depression than other forms because you are left to suffer and no one even knows to step in and help because you become a master of dancing and making it okay for everyone in your life but you.

Risk Factors for High Functioning Depression

Although anyone can develop high-functioning depression, some risk factors can increase someone’s risk:

  • Having a family member with a mood disorder – Having a close relative with a history of mood disorder puts you at risk of high functioning depression
  • People who tend to see themselves negatively – Low self-esteem, a generally negative outlook, and perfectionist tendencies are often associated with high functioning depression
  • High stress and trauma – Emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, financial troubles, loss of someone you love, relationship problems, and other traumatic experiences can aid in the onset of depression
  • Co-occurring mental disorders – High functioning depression usually does not occur independently, rather, is related to other predisposing mental conditions

Complications of Experiencing High Functioning Depression

For most people with high functioning depression, the complications are that they find very little joy in life and their quality of life can be greatly diminished. But for others who don’t seek treatment, suffering from high functioning depression can take its toll and lead to.

  • Trouble in relationships with other people
  • Difficulty in school or having a hard time holding a job
  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Physical illness and chronic pain
  • Preoccupation with suicide or actual attempts at suicide

People with high functioning depression are often their worst critic and push themselves forward even when they don’t feel up to the challenge. Since they are more concerned with what other people think of them and their ideation of perfection, they often would rather muddle through their feelings of helplessness than to ask for the help they need.

When they do start to show signs of “cracking,” their close friends and family are surprised by their behavior. But when symptoms do begin to surface, that is a real sign for help.

Everyone feels down once in a while, but for those with high functioning depression, the symptoms can rob their quality of life. Making matters worse, a person with high functioning depression will work very hard to hide their pain, which makes it more difficult for them to see their problem and to get the help they need. Being worrisome, never feeling good enough and emptiness are all signs that you are depressed.

There is no shame in saying you need help. Depression is highly treatable, once you recognize that you have it. Although it is usually not life-threatening, it can stop you from realizing your dreams, excelling in your career, or even hold you back from doing the things you used to love. If you think that you are suffering from high functioning depression, talk with a counselor today. The road to recovery is not far off once you take a step to get the help you need.

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