Face Behind The Mask: High Functioning Depression
By Nadia Khan
Updated May 29, 2020
Reviewer Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC
Face Behind The Mask: High Functioning Depression
Did you know that many people suffer from depression while appearing perfectly functional to the outside world? On the surface, they appear to be accomplished people who are going to work, participating in social engagements, going on dates, or being a great husband or wife. In reality, on the inside, just getting through the day leaves them feeling drained, exhausted, and fighting an inner battle. This is referred to as High Functioning Depression, and sadly, it is not easily recognizable, because the individual is 'high functioning' and maintaining their day-to-day without much trouble.
It is entirely possible that someone you see every day or work with closely could be suffering from high functioning depression, and you most likely don't have the slightest clue. It can often be overlooked or difficult to understand. In fact, there is little awareness around the existence of this seemingly paradoxical mental illness and, as a result, most people have no idea what signs and symptoms to look out for. This is one of the most troubling aspects of the disorder, stemming from the fact that high functioning depression presents itself very differently from other depressive disorders.
Many individuals with High Functioning Depression appear to live and function normally, hence the name. Those closest to them often misinterpret the functioning as the individual powering through and overcoming their mental illness. However, this is not always the case. People who suffer from the condition may be straight-A students, the CEO of a large corporation, a perfect mother and wife, or timely and efficient workers. They may even appear to be very socially friendly people. However, this is a mask they put on to maintain their life, but on the inside, they are waging a constant battle.
What Is It Like To Live With High Functioning Depression
Imagine waking up in the morning, feeling like a robot rusted around the edges. Your joints are sore, and you drag your heavy limbs out of bed, beginning your daily routine. You look at the family photo by your bed, met only by a troubling hollowness. As you look for the clothes, you take into account everything you'll do that day. You finally pick a suitable outfit and prep for your day, but you still feel unsatisfied without even leaving the bedroom. Factors like awards, trophies, sports, and school bring no feelings of pride. Meeting your friends for dinner or planning a family vacation only makes you feel exhausted. You feel that no raise, award, or exotic vacation can bring you excitement, no matter how much effort you put in.
You're seen as strong and successful, but that is not how you feel. This is why High Functioning Depression has become such a problem. Your friends, neighbors, family, and coworkers see a perfect friend and significant other because they can't tell that you're dying on the inside. You can't bring yourself to share how you truly feel, or maybe you haven't pieced those feelings together yet or faced the truth, even to yourself. As a result, you continue to ignore the feelings of incompetence and hopelessness and go on with your day.
Signs To Look Out For
If people with high functioning depression are so good at cloaking their symptoms, how can you tell if someone close to you is struggling? Thankfully, if you pay close attention, there are a few things you can look out for, covered below.
- Are they overly critical of themselves? Many individuals with High Functioning Depression tend to be perfectionists and are often their own biggest critics. Most are successful and are seen as fairly well off, which might be because they have very high expectations and are continuously working on getting to that next level, whatever it may be. They may work hard to maintain high grades or continuously strive for a promotion, a higher salary. They may take up multiple hobbies, excelling at them all, and if they fall short, they are extremely hard on themselves.
- They often may be more irritable than normal. While they appear to be cool and collected most of the time, there is a war going on inside of them, and this can easily lead to them snapping unexpectedly. This symptom is most prevalent in women, which is why many do not recognize it. Instead, the sudden bursts of snappiness are often dismissing as a woman being moody. In men, that same irritability often escalates to intense anger.
- Things that seem small often take a toll for people with Functional Depression, giving them anxiety that can be consistent and irrational. Tying in with the symptom of irritability, those with High Functioning Depression frequently become distraught and upset over the tiniest of things. They can even become obsessive and be unable to let things go.
- People with High Functioning Depression run the risk of becoming both mentally and physically exhausted. Between balancing all the tasks they take on and struggling with their feelings of depression and hopelessness, patients tend to become worn down.
- Their sleep patterns may be affected, and they may have a harder time falling asleep or oversleeping as a result of their exhaustion.
- Absence of joy. This is a big red flag for any depressive disorder, but especially so with High Functioning Disorder. People with the disorder tend to have trouble enjoying things and experiencing happiness, even in the things they used to love previously. If a loved one seems to have it all from the outside, but they don't appear to be happy or to be enjoying their success, ask yourself why they could be suffering from depression.
- Drug and alcohol abuse. While it is completely normal to drink socially, when someone is suffering from a mental illness, it is not uncommon that they begin to abuse alcohol or prescription and illegal drugs as a coping mechanism.
If someone you know, your mother, your husband, your child, a colleague, or a dear friend seems to be exhibiting some of these symptoms, it's worth having a conversation with them to figure out if something is wrong. If any of these symptoms ring true for you, try to be open to the idea that you may be suffering from depression.
Could I Have High Functioning Depression?
As you read this, are you wondering whether you may be suffering from High Functioning Depression? As stated above, some of the symptoms of this type of depression are similar to that of other depressive disorders. The telltale difference, of course, is your outward appearance and your ability to function well. Whereas most depressive disorders cause sufferers to retreat, to appear overly emotional, and often appear hopeless and defeated, you may appear totally unfazed and unbothered to the outside observer.
However, what people fail to see is the strain you are under. You may also be plagued by feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, and self-doubt. You may constantly be critiquing yourself and doubting your abilities, regardless of how successful you are. When someone praises you, you may feel unworthy of that praise and recognition.
It might be hard for you to get out of bed every morning due to the overwhelming physical and emotional burden you are under. Yet, you push and force yourself to do so and get on with your day. However, that effort may leave you feeling drained of energy and mentally exhausted most days.
Finally, as mentioned above, one of the most significant clues to whether you may have High Functioning Depression is your inability to experience the pleasure of joy in anything around you, including activities, friends, and events you previously enjoyed. Arguably the most serious symptom is the absence of joy in the individual's life.
It has been observed that those with Functional Depression are more likely to take their lives than those with other forms of depression. So if you suspect the illness, it's vital to seek the help you deserve. You have no reason to feel embarrassed or ashamed. Remember, you are not alone in hiding your feelings behind a mask.
High Functioning Depression Test
Many people have trouble identifying and acknowledging High Functioning Depression, whether they're on the outside looking in, or the one suffering from it. If you have doubts and you're not sure where to begin, consider taking a depression test online to understand what you're feeling. Conversely, you can also ask yourself the following questions:
Do you participate in many hobbies/sports/activities?
Do you have more than one job, or work frequent overtime?
Do you stress over keeping your GPA high?
Are you often unsatisfied with your achievements?
Are you highly critical of your appearance and/or performance?
Do you often feel a sense of hopelessness?
Do you have a very Type A personality?
Do you have trouble enjoying things you used to love?
Do you feel hollow at family gatherings, award ceremonies, parties, etc.?
Are you often physically and/or mentally tired and run down?
Do you have trouble taking pride in your work?
If the answer was "yes" to any of those questions, then it is likely that you may be suffering from High Functioning Depression. This short quiz should not be used as a diagnostic tool. It is simply a starting point as you try to understand what you are going through. Make an appointment with a doctor for a medical diagnosis and for the appropriate treatment path.
How to Get Help?
The first and often the most difficult step in helping those who suffer from high functioning depression is recognizing it. Once you're open to that possibility, the next step is to speak to a doctor. They will conduct some tests and evaluations, rule out any underlying medical problems, and render a diagnosis. You will then be referred to a mental health professional. Depression is typically treated using a combination of medication to manage your symptoms and feelings of despair and talk therapy in order to get to the root of your problems and arm you with ways to change your thought patterns.
Additionally, non-medical lifestyle changes you can make to contribute to your treatment plan include:
- Exercise: You would be shocked at what a difference exercise can make in your life. Thirty minutes of cardio, three times a week, can go a long way towards alleviating symptoms of depression and making you feel better about yourself.
- Relax! Find activities you enjoy or ones that help you relax and take some time out on a regular basis to unwind and decompress.
- Meditate: Practicing this on a regular basis can help you relax and help you to enjoy the moment you're in.
- Rest: Get plenty of sleep and rest, give your mind and body time to heal and re-energize.
Depressive disorders and high functioning depression are more common than you might think, and people have been exactly where you are, scouring the internet for articles and advice on success stories. The success stories are not wrong. If you feel apprehensive about the idea of seeing a counselor in person or you can't fit in therapy with your hectic schedule, consider seeking support from counselors at BetterHelp. With BetterHelp, you can access the health care you need from the comfort and privacy of your own home (or wherever you have an internet connection). Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors, from people experiencing similar issues.
"Colleen has been an intricate part of my healing, and I know that I would not be as successful as I am without her encouragement, support, and advice. She is always there when I need her without hesitation and fully understands the goals I have and the challenges I face. She has wonderful techniques in helping me release and cope with stress and anxiety, and it has greatly reduced my depression. Colleen is an absolutely fantastic therapist, and I can't recommend her highly enough!"
"Chris has helped me manage my depression and anxiety in meaningful, productive ways. He helps me gain a clearer perspective and identify negative thought patterns that are at odds with a healthy, positive outlook. I would recommend Chris to anybody else trying to deal with their depression."
If you are suffering from high functioning depression or depression of any kind, you don't have to give up hope or feel that your life will never be the same again. With a little bit of help and commitment on your part, you can find joy in your life again. If someone you know is suffering from depression, encourage them to get help and try to be supportive. Listen to them if they need to talk, acknowledge, and empathize with what they're going through. Remind them they are not alone. With the right tools, living a truly fulfilling life is possible. Take the first step today.
If you feel like you are in a crisis and need someone to talk to immediately, there are resources. For confidential help, you can call 844-208-0633 or get 24/7 assistance from the crisis line at 1-866-996-0991.