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What is High Functioning Depression? 6 Signs to Watch For

by | Aug 3, 2022 | MENTAL HEALTH, THERAPY

person going through high functioning depression

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 280 million people of all ages in the world struggle with depression. In the United States alone, 21 million adults have experienced at least one severe depressive episode in their life. Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions, though many people aren’t aware there are different types of depression that exist. Read on to learn more about how to can spot high functioning depression and what you can do if you believe you or someone you love might be experiencing it.


What is High Functioning Depression?


It’s important to note that high functioning depression actually isn’t a clinical diagnosis included in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders the way Major Depression Disorder (MDD) is. Instead, many people who use the term high functioning depression are likely confusing it for the more apt clinical diagnosis, Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD). Although it’s not an official diagnosis, the term is often validating for many people when it comes to identifying their experience and symptoms.


High functioning depression is a form of depression in which someone experiences a persistent low mood for most or all of the day and for longer than two months at a time. Some people who struggle with high functioning depression will experience symptoms two years or more. While high functioning depression isn’t an official diagnosis, the concept and symptoms a person experiences who struggles with it are very real.


Depression can look different from person to person, but high functioning depression refers to a type of depression in which someone is able to still function in their day-to-day life and relationships, even though they feel depressed. However, just because someone is able to function, it doesn’t make their symptoms and experiences any less valid or challenging to cope with.


6 Signs You Might be Experiencing High Functioning Depression


Persistent Sadness or Feeling Numb


One of the hallmark signs of high functioning depression is a persistent feeling of sadness, numbness, and disconnection. It’s helpful to know the difference between temporary sadness and persistent sadness as the length of time can be an indicator if someone is experiencing clinical depression.


Loss of Interest in Hobbies, Socializing, and Passions


High functioning depression might be present if you feel disinterested in the things in life that usually would bring you joy. Someone with high functioning depression might find themselves engaging in social settings because they feel that they must, while the entire time they might be counting the seconds until they can return home.


Someone might also find themselves not wanting to engage in hobbies. Instead, they might disconnect by binging tv shows for hours on end or scrolling through social media as it allows them to check out mentally and emotionally.


Difficulty With Focus and Memory at Work or School


Someone struggling with high functioning depression is usually able to attend school and/or work and seem just fine, but internally, they might be struggling significantly with staying focused or remembering tasks they need to do. It can feel anxiety inducing because on the outside, the person seems functional, but they are really struggling internally. This can cause confusion amongst employers, peers, and teachers and lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and embarrassment for the person with depression.


Feeling Tired Despite Adequate Sleep


Dealing with depression can be exhausting. Many who experience depression know the feeling of extreme fatigue no matter how much sleep they are able to get. Someone with high functioning depression might be able to get their tasks and obligations completed but have zero energy for anything else that might be considered self-care. This means people with high functioning depression are often showing up for others, while neglecting their own needs.


Feeling More Prone to Irritability


Depression is a mood disorder and thus symptoms of emotional dysregulation are very common. Depression is frequently associated with feelings of sadness, but irritability and frustration are present for many people with depression as well. It can be frustrating to deal with the symptoms of depression including the ways it impacts one’s life, relationships, sense of self, and more.


Negative Thoughts About Yourself


Most people struggle with negative thoughts about themselves at times, but for people with depression, it can happen very frequently. A person with high functioning depression might not be able to acknowledge all that they are achieving despite their depression. Many struggle with negative and self limiting thoughts due to depression.



A Note About the Label of “High Functioning” and Mental Illnesses


As mentioned earlier in the article, high functioning depression is not a clinical diagnosis and is often confused for Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD). The term high functioning can feel empowering for some who’s depression doesn’t look “depressed enough” due to their ability to function day to day. For others, it can feel offensive as it implies that they are less valid due to the debilitating nature of their depression symptoms. Both camps are valid and deserve understanding, empathy, and not to be shamed for their experiences.


In this context, the term high functioning is not used to otherize those who’s depression severely impairs functionality. Instead, it’s purpose is to validate that depression does not look the same for every person and stereotypical depictions of depression don’t align with every depression sufferer’s experience.


Getting Help for High Functioning Depression


There are effective treatments when it comes to support for people living with depression. Many people benefit from therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), and more. Working with a mental health professional who specializes in treating depression can help with coping, working through negative thoughts, and more. There is also the option of more intensive treatment programs that can be utilized for long term care.


No matter how your depression presents, you are deserving of compassion, support, and understanding.


This article is not a substitute for mental health or medical advice. If you are someone you love are struggling with depression and/or experiencing suicidal thoughts, place contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.

Modern Intimacy is a group therapy practice, founded by renowned Psychologist and Sex Therapist, Dr. Kate Balestrieri. This inclusive blog is designed to provide a wealth of information and resources for mental health, relationships, and sexuality. Subscribe today to get the latest information from our expert contributors from all around the world.


Author Bio

Kayla Tricaso is the Office Manager and Patient Intake Specialist at Modern Intimacy. Passionate about mental health and social justice, Kayla spends her free time listening to true crime podcasts, reading and working on her personal memoir.



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