High-functioning depression is not a diagnosis in itself. Instead, it is a term used to describe hidden symptoms of depression that usually go unnoticed by people around us and seemingly don’t impair day-to-day functioning.

Depression can take various forms, and it impacts everybody differently.

What Is High-functioning Depression?

High-functioning depression isn’t clinically recognised as a mental health condition, although in many cases, it might represent a diagnosable form of depression. People with high-functioning depression may seem fine most of the time and can go about their day, be productive and complete all of their day-to-day activities. However, they still experience signs and symptoms of depression that other people may not notice.

People with functional depression might lack motivation or feel sad and unproductive, but they can still complete their daily obligations. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders doesn’t recognise high-functioning depression as a clinical condition or clinical depression.

Many people consider high-functioning depression as an episode of depression without the typical diagnosable signs and symptoms.

Recognising the signs of high-functioning depression, on the other hand, is not as easy. It is an insidious mental health challenge that hides behind people’s ability to function. On the bright side, getting help and treatment can make life more enjoyable, and finding the best ways to improve mood and functioning leads to a better outlook on life.

Signs and Symptoms of High-functioning Depression

Recognising the signs and symptoms of high-functioning depression may be challenging. The symptoms usually develop gradually before people realise they might have a specific mental health challenge. 

Some of the most common symptoms, however, include:

  • Feeling pessimistic 
  • Feeling sad 
  • Feeling constantly guilty 
  • Feeling irritable or anxious 
  • Losing interest in doing things 
  • Oversleeping
  • Persistent sadness
  • Withdrawing from your friends or family 
  • Always feeling tired 
  • Having a hard time focusing
  • Having a hard time falling asleep
  • Changes in appetite 

Causes of High-functioning Depression

A variety of factors can cause high-functioning depression. Some of the most common ones include:

  • Imbalance of certain brain chemicals that regulate mood
  • Stressful events
  • Trauma
  • Medical challenges
  • Genetics
  • Substance abuse

Diagnosing High-functioning Depression

High-functioning depression isn’t a diagnosis in itself, and there are no clinical tests to prove that a person may have it. However, a mental health professional can use different screening tools to assess people’s signs and symptoms. Clinically, this form of depression is often referred to as persistent depressive disorder, dysthymia or chronic mild depression.

Dysthymia is considered a less severe form of depression, and people who have it can experience many of the same symptoms but on a milder level. The diagnostic criteria can include what it means to have high functioning in clinical terms, but it doesn’t necessarily explain what it feels like to deal with it daily.

The screening mental health professionals use entails learning about the person’s mood, willingness to perform daily tasks, opinion about themselves, and eating and sleeping habits.

Treatment Options for High-functioning Depression

Despite having the ability to mask the symptoms, people with high-functioning depression are still negatively affected by the symptoms. On a positive note, treatments can help, and multiple options are available.

For example, psychotherapy can help alleviate some symptoms as research shows effectiveness in producing more positive outcomes.

Additionally, cognitive behaviour therapy is a form of talk therapy that examines how behaviour and emotions interact. Learning about these patterns allows people to respond to their symptoms differently.

Another option is behavioural activation therapy, where individuals are encouraged to be more engaged with their community, do different activities they enjoy and reduce behaviours that contribute to developing depressive symptoms.

Treating high-functioning depression can improve quality of life and allow people to enjoy all the activities and hobbies they used to. At Nurseline Community Services, we provide person-centred support for people with high-functioning depression and mental health challenges, with support plans tailored to each individual.

Hiding the Fact That You Have Depression

The topic of depression is slowly becoming less of a taboo in today’s society. However, some surveys show that about two-thirds of adults dealing with depression are unwilling to ask for help. Some of the reasons they might avoid looking for help is due to stigma.

In certain cultures, people are taught not to talk about their feelings, emotions or mental health challenges. Also, stigma causes people to shy away from sharing how they feel, and we even see cases where people are urged to power alone while sharing is perceived as a form of weakness.

Having depression is not something to be ashamed of. People experiencing depression might not even know how to ask for help, but removing these barriers and sharing treatment options is essential to save people’s lives.

The “Invisible Illness”

When we think about a person with depression, most of us probably think of someone who is often sad. And this is indeed many people’s view of depression, but it is essential that not everyone experiences depression the same way.

High-functioning depression is one of the few mental illnesses (or mental health challenges) that is called the “invisible illness”. This is because people can go about their day and not talk about the difficulties they are experiencing. It is usually difficult to spot when someone is having a hard time, especially since people’s daily functioning is often considered when making an assumption or even a mental health diagnosis.

When people can meet expectations in different areas of life, they are considered to be doing well. Unfortunately, part of why it is difficult to recognise depression is because of stigma. There are still stereotypes about how a person with depression behaves, as we often expect people with depression to seem unable to go about their day.

The good thing is that depression is one of the mental health conditions with the most significant treatment rate, and asking for help at the right time is essential.

Accepting Your Mental Health

Accepting depression as a mental health challenge allows people to be prepared for the next step, which is seeking help and utilising that help.

For some people accepting the fact that they have depression is liberating. It allows peace of mind from constantly wondering whether your feelings and emotions are valid.

Embracing people for who they are, being ready to see changes and being supportive throughout the recovery journey is vital for helping a person recover from depression.

Nurseline Community Services Supports People with Depression

Nurseline Community Services is a proactive care provider that embraces an outcome-based approach, ensuring people’s needs are met with the highest quality service.

Our mission is to break the stigma around depression and embrace people’s unique needs through the lens of human rights. Our skilled clinicians in Bristol, Birmingham and Gloucester are always prepared to provide compassionate care and support.

If you want to learn more about how we can help, contact us today!