Face Behind The Mask: High Functioning Depression

By Sarah Fader

Updated May 09, 2019

Reviewer Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC

While it may seem like somewhat of an oxymoron, High Functioning Depression affects many Americans, often without anyone around them wondering anything. In fact, someone you know could be suffering from High Functioning Depression, and you haven't been able to tell. That is of course one of the most troubling aspects of Functional Depression.

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It can often be overlooked, or difficult to recognize. Not only are few truly aware of the existence of the seemingly paradoxical mental illness, many have no idea what to look for.As the name suggests, High Functioning Depression presents itself much differently from other Depressive Disorders.

Many individuals with High Functioning Depression appear to live and function normally, hence the name. Those close to them, if they are aware of their Depression, often misinterpret this as them powering through and overcoming their mental illness. However, unfortunately this is rarely the case. Many with the condition may be straight A students, they could be timely and efficient workers, even appear to be sociable friends. However, beneath the mask these individuals fight a constant battle.

Signs To Look Out For

Many individuals with High Functioning Depression are frequently critical of themselves, and tend to be perfectionists. Most are successful and are seen as fairly well off. They may feel the need to continually achieve and may be extremely hard on themselves if they fall short of their own expectations. They often maintain high grades, have many hobbies, take on multiple jobs.

They often may be more irritable than normal. While they seem cool and collected most of the time, there is a war going on inside of them and this can easily lead them to snap unexpectedly. This symptom is most prevalent in women, which is why many do not recognize it, rather brushing it off as being moody. In men irritability often escalates quickly to intense anger.

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Things that seem small often wear away at those 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 can't let things go.

People with High Functioning Depression frequently become both mentally and physically exhausted. Between balancing all the tasks they take on and being plagued by depression and hopelessness, patients tend to become worn down. As well, their condition may affect their sleep patterns, usually making it difficult to sleep, or causing them to oversleep.

One of the most tell tale signs of any depressive disorder, especially High Functioning Depression which can be so difficult to noticed, is an absence of joy. Put simply, they have trouble truly enjoying things and experiencing happiness. Even things they used to love no longer bring them the sense of joy it used to. Happiness seems impossible, only adding to the hopelessness they are already experience.

High Functioning Depression can also lead people to abuse drugs and alcohol. It is okay to have a drink with friends, or wine at dinner. However, the mental illness raises these people's likelihood to abuse alcohol as well and prescription and illegal drugs.

Could I Have High Functioning Depression?

The symptoms of High Functioning Depression are often similar to that of other depressive disorder. The tell tale difference of course being the patients outward appearance. While most depressive disorders cause sufferers to retreat, to appear overly emotional, and often appear hopeless and defeated. Those with Functional Depression rather appear totally unphased to the outside observer.

However, what people often can't see is the strain it truly puts on the sufferer. Those with High Functioning Depression are plagued by feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, and self doubt. They constantly critique themselves and seem to doubt their abilities no matter what they succeed. When met with praise, many feel unworthy of recognition.

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As well, it is also common for these individuals to have a difficult time getting themselves out of bed due to the overwhelming physical and emotional burden. However, as the name of the disorder suggests, these individuals persist. They often feel drained of energy and mentally exhausted most days.

Arguably the most serious symptom is the absence of joy in the individual's life. Activities which they once would have enjoyed become tiresome and they are unable to experience the pleasure of such events. From games, to parties, to hobbies, they participate, but do not enjoy. It has been observed that those with Functional Depression are more likely to take their lives than those with other forms of depression.

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 to the family photo by your bed, met only by a troubling hollowness. As you look for clothes you take into account everything you'll do that day. Scrutiny kicks in as you finally pick a suitable outfit, only to feel unsatisfied still. And you haven't left the bedroom yet.

Passing awards and trophies in choir, sports, and school brings no feelings of pride. Nothing at all. Yet you tie up your running shoes, step out the door, going for a jog to prepare for yet another marathon. Some part of you may know that this attempt at self-satisfaction will be as futile as the rest. At work, no raise, award, or promotion could 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 High Functioning Depression and this is why it is such problem. Your friends, neighbors, family, and coworkers see nothing wrong. They may tell you you're just hard on yourself, to loosen up. So you continue to ignore to feeling of incompetence in your gut and go on with your day.

How Can I Help Someone Who's Suffering?

The first and often the most difficult step in helping those who suffer from high functioning depression is recognizing it. While assuming every high achiever you know has the illness is irrational, if someone close to exhibits signs, like not seeming themselves, acting over-critically, or appearing exhausted it can do no harm to ask how they're doing.

It can be as simple as that, in fact. Just a common old, "how are you feeling"' could be enough to encourage someone to open up. Make it clear to them that you are proud of their accomplishments, and most of all that you care for them, and you're worried because they don't seem to quite be themselves lately.

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One of the best things you can do is be a listening ear, and a shoulder to lean on. Individuals with High Functioning Depression can often benefit from feeling like someone is there to help, that they're not alone. Acknowledge their struggle and often help and guidance. Many people can't fully comprehend how debilitating and difficult Functional Depression can be. It is important to remember not to label or view them as being over-dramatic, or attention seeking.

Try to help take some pressure off their life. This could mean little things like checking in through friendly text messages, going to them rather than expecting them to come to you - both emotionally and physically- by initiating healthy conversations, meeting them where they are rather than suggesting they travel to meet you. These things can bring them extra stress and have the opposite effect that you're going for.

High Functioning Depression Test

Many have trouble identifying and acknowledging High Functioning Depression, whether they suffer from it, or they're on the outside looking in. As discussed, there are certain tell tale signs surrounding the condition. Many online Depression Tests exist to help individuals understand what they're feeling. However, due to the nature of Functional Depression it can be difficult to find tests designated to the condition. Read the following questions and answer honestly.

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 gathering, 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 you answered "yes" to the majority of those questions than it is likely that you may be suffering from High Functioning Depression. This short quiz of course in no way exceeds an examination by a medical professional and is only a recommendation for informative purposes.

This in mind, if you believe you are suffering from Functional Depression it is crucial that you speak to your physician. They are the one's who can most accurately diagnose you. As well, it is sometimes that case that High Functioning Depression can be caused be other underlying health conditions.

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.

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