Yes, High-Functioning Depression Is a Thing (And Here’s How to Look out for It)

Adults |

When we think of someone suffering from depression, we often imagine a person who has difficulty getting out of bed every morning, or someone who might struggle to take physical care of themselves, maintain healthy relationships, or stay focused at work or school. But what about the people in our lives who seem like they’ve got it all figured out? Could your colleague who ran 5 miles and ate a balanced meal before showing up for work this morning actually also be struggling on the inside?

Contrary to popular belief, there is such a thing as high-functioning depression (sometimes referred to as dysthymia.) Although it typically manifests in subtler ways than Major Depressive Disorder does, high-functioning depression is a very real mental health concern that many experience daily. However, since those who struggle with it may not outwardly appear to be hurting, their struggles frequently slip under the radar unnoticed. This makes them less likely to get the help they need to feel like their happiest, healthiest selves. Here are some things to look out for if this sounds familiar to you or someone else in your life: 

A lingering feeling of sadness or malaise

While people experiencing high-functioning depression may not express feelings of sadness with the same intensity as those with Major Depressive Disorder might, they are still unfortunately well-acquainted with the deep sadness that typically dominates in depression. This malaise, as some refer to it, is felt most of the time, on most days if not every day, for an extended period of time. It’s common to have a hard time identifying any particular reason behind these feelings when experiencing dysthymia. 

Loss of interest

Not unrelated to the haze of sadness that seems to hover relentlessly over life with dysthymia comes a loss of interest in things that used to spark joy or other positive emotions. Those coping with high-functioning depression might find that the foods, hobbies, or relationships that used to be fulfilling no longer bring them any pleasure. They may not be able to rely on the mood-boosters they’ve always used in the past to lift them up when they’re feeling down – and this can be an immensely troubling realization to come to. 

Loss of energy

Though those of us dealing with dysthymia are often very capable of living healthy, active lifestyles and fulfilling responsibilities, we may still find ourselves with very little energy most of the time. In other words, as most of us all know, getting out of bed every morning and making it into work does not always indicate that we’re feeling fully rested or that it wasn’t a struggle just to get here. Just because someone manages to reliably “show up” to their responsibilities does not mean they aren’t miserable, or much less that they’re feeling “good” mentally. 

Being hard on yourself

Surely many of us struggle with being our own worst critics. Depression, though, has a uniquely severe way of making people extra critical of themselves. They may experience feelings of complete worthlessness and believe nothing that they do is “good enough.” For some people, these feelings of worthlessness can manifest itself by way of perfectionism. Although “depression” isn’t the first word that comes to mind when we think “perfectionism,” dysthymia can often cause someone to put in relentless extra hours at work despite feeling tired and miserable on the inside. This behaviour often stems from these pervasive feelings of not “being” or “doing” enough. While there are lots of different reasons behind perfectionistic tendencies, it’s important to recognize that not everyone who lives with depression is withdrawn and lethargic like the media often leads us to believe. 

High-functioning depression and dysthymia share many of the same symptoms as Major Depressive Disorders, but the subtlety with which they present means that tons of people who are suffering end up going unnoticed, and without help. Although dysthymia symptoms are often mild in comparison, they are also chronic – meaning that they can persist for longer than a typical depressive episode might, sometimes for years at a time. This is why if you or someone you know might be dealing with high-functioning depression, it’s important to first recognize it as a real mental health concern that ought to be taken seriously.

It’s not uncommon to feel guilty for struggling with your mental health, especially when it seems like others “have it so much worse.” However, there’s no magic number of symptoms or level of severity that you must have in order to benefit from getting help. You deserve to feel like your happiest self – if you’re struggling, please reach out. If you’re looking for tips on how to talk to a loved one about seeking counselling, check out our article on that here.