Face Behind The Mask: High Functioning Depression

Updated October 18, 2022by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Face Behind The Mask: High Functioning Depression

Did you know that many people experience 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 partner. On the inside, just getting through the day can leave those same people feeling exhausted. People with this relevant experience of depression are able to maintain their day-to-day life without appearing to struggle.

Wondering What High-Functioning Depression Looks Like?

It is entirely possible that someone you see every day or work with closely could be struggling with high functioning depression, and you may not see many indicators. It can be difficult to understand and therefore easy to overlook. High functioning depression is not a clinical diagnosis, but rather an understanding that some people experience depressive episodes without some of the definitive symptoms. The characteristics behind “high functioning depression” can also often categorize someone experiencing persistent depressive disorder (PDD). PDD is characterized by periods of low-grade depression that can last for years. PDD is often in line with high functioning depression, as it is a multi-year depressive episode of feelings of persistent sadness.

Individuals with this kind of depression appear to live and function with ease. Those closest to them often misinterpret their functioning as them powering through and overcoming their mental illness. This may not always be the case. Straight-A students, the CEO of a large corporation, a perfect mother and wife, or a timely and efficient worker may all be struggling with high functioning depression. Their outward success may be a mask they put on to maintain their life or a coping mechanism if they’ve struggled finding ways to ease their symptoms. Their ability to stay afloat may also be taking a larger amount of effort than you might expect.

What Is It Like To Live With High Functioning Depression?

Living with depression, as with all types of mental illnesses, can look different on different people. Depending on who you are as a person, including your usual motivation, responsibilities, and lifestyle, your experience will naturally vary. Depression does not have to look like being unable to get out of bed and always feeling tired, although it can look like that for some. Impairment to daily functioning is a common symptom, but less severe forms of depression can look like an overall gloominess, lack of energy, or tasks starting to feel like monumental obstacles.

Depression is often characterized by a lack of interest in things that used to interest you, negative thoughts about your life and yourself, or feelings of hopelessness. Depression can make it harder to feel motivated to do the things you used to do, whether out of obligation or choice. If you’re struggling with high functioning depression, you may find it challenging to go about your life but not impossible.

Factors like praise, favorite hobbies, loving family and friends may not bring the feelings of pride and comfort they used to. Completing tasks or succeeding in your daily life may be the only thing that gets you out of bed. Going through the daily responsibilities of your life may also give you the sense of routine that keeps you from falling apart. Feeling responsible to yourself and others can also be incredibly taxing for someone with high functioning depression.

You're seen as strong and successful, but that is not how you feel. It can be isolating for your friends, neighbors, family, and coworkers to see your ability to function without seeing your pain. At the root of depression is often a rift between how we see ourselves and how we want to be seen by ourselves and others. Maybe this is why it’s challenging to tell someone how you feel, or maybe when you do tell people, they think that the solution is to keep powering through.

Signs To Look Out For

If you are still able to move through your life without major behavioral changes but feel consistent feelings of sadness of hopelessness, these are some questions to ask to better understand your symptoms.

  • Are you critical of yourself? Are you more critical of yourself lately?
  • Are you finding less joy in the people or activities that used to bring you joy?
  • Do you find yourself dwelling on past mistakes?
  • Is your view of yourself consistently negative?
  • Do you find it hard to concentrate?
  • Do you find it hard to make decisions?
  • Do you feel more irritable than normal?
  • Do you feel more upset by small mishaps than usual?
  • Do you feel more tired than usual? Do you notice changes in your sleep patterns? Do you have a harder time falling asleep?
  • Does it feel harder to feel or express joy?  
  • Are you noticing more of a reliance or use of drugs and alcohol?

If the answer was "yes" to any of those questions, then it is likely that you may be experiencing high functioning depression. This short quiz should not be used as a diagnostic tool for any mental illnesses. 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.

If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms more often than not, it’s worth having an open and honest conversation and considering treatment paths.

Pursuing Help

You may also feel plagued by feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, and self-doubt but your exterior circumstances are staying intact. If you are in pain or discomfort, regardless of your exterior life, you deserve help to feel healthy again. Depression in any form is not something that can be willed away by favorable external circumstances or positive thinking. Even if you are able to move toward your goals, your struggle with high functioning depression and feeling clinically depressed is likely adding a lot of extra baggage.

Options like talk therapy, medication, mindfulness tasks, and other activities known to boost your mood or feeling of wellbeing can all be a part of your plan to feel better. Establishing a routine that includes time or activities that directly help alleviate your symptoms lets you move forward every day as you figure out your long-term treatment plans.

Wondering What High-Functioning Depression Looks Like?

Speaking to a licensed therapist is a healthy first step towards understanding your feelings and where you can go from there. If you and your doctor categorize your symptoms as depression, treatment paths including medication and/or talk therapy can be pursued. Support groups can be another effective treatment option, as support groups enable you to connect with others experiencing similar difficulties.

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 ways forward. Studies have shown that the vast majority of people find online therapy to be effective for treating high functioning depression, with nearly 38% of users showing clinically significant improvement in symptoms of depression within 3 months.   

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 professional mental and emotional support from counselors at BetterHelp. If you’re feeling hesitant about taking this step forward, an online therapist can be a low-risk and low-commitment step forward until you feel more comfortable. With BetterHelp, you can receive the health care you need from the comfort and privacy of your own home (or wherever you have an internet connection). You can also manage settings by having your sessions via phone call, video chat, voice chat (recordings sent back and forth), or instant messaging – whatever works best for you.

Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors, from people experiencing similar issues.

Counselor Reviews                                                                  

"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!"

“I have had chronic mild depression my whole 50 year life. Been to therapy, once long term, several other attempts where I did not connect, including a couple on BetterHelp, but made minimal progress. Laura is the first person who I felt has been able to zero in on the root problem and offer a path to recovery, and for the first time I am cautiously optimistic that with her help she can prod me and work with me to finally achieve happiness.”


If you are going through depression of any kind, you don't have to give up. If you feel you are affected by any of these symptoms, then you deserve to find ways to feel better. With some help from a license counselor, you can find balance and peace in your life again. Mental health therapy can be a truly invaluable service no matter who you are. If someone you know is living with depression, encourage them to investigate treatment paths. 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.

Below are commonly asked questions on this topic:

What is high-functioning mental illness?
What is a high-functioning person?
What is the high level of depression?
What are the four levels of depression?
What are the 5 levels of depression?
How do you know if you're high-functioning?
What is a high-functioning sociopath?
Is overthinking is a mental disorder?
What does dysthymia look like?
What is last stage depression?

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

What Does It Mean To Be High Functioning?

A person who is high functioning is defined as a person with a disability, chronic illness, or mental health condition(s) who functions mentally or physically at a higher level than someone with the same medical condition(s). High functioning depression, for example, may be somebody with serious mental health problems who is able to mask their feelings effectively in public, or it could also be somebody who lives with depression but is still able to go about their daily life. Signs and symptoms of mental health issues, substance abuse, or disabilities may be difficult to spot in a person who is high functioning.

What Is The Most Reliable Symptom Of Depression?

Depression can look different from person to person. The signs and symptoms of major depression vary greatly and there is no one single symptom to keep an eye out for. Depression occurs in a large number of people, and a functioning person may mask their symptoms subconsciously or consciously. With that said, someone living with depression may exhibit or notice feelings of hopelessness or helplessness in regard to their lives. This is one of the most common symptoms of depression and can have side effects such as substance abuse, a lack of energy and reduced physical activity, and a general inability to enjoy life. Receiving mental health treatment when living with depression is incredibly beneficial for helping a person cope with depression while performing work or school, as well as beneficial for stopping suicidal thoughts.

What Are 4 Major Causes Of Depression?

There is a wide range of factors that can cause clinical depression, but four of the most common are: genetics, substance abuse, early childhood experiences, and major life events. Having family members prone to depression may result in a person developing a depressive disorder or mental illness. Substance abuse from a combination of medications or abuse of one single medication is one of the signs and symptoms of depression but can also be a cause, as covered by Healthline Media. Early childhood experiences such as abuse and mental trauma are also another common cause of persistent depressive episodes, and major life events or trauma are the final common cause.

What Does High Functioning Bipolar Look Like?

High functioning bipolar disorder is when the person experiencing the mental illness is capable of managing the mental health condition effectively. In some cases, it may be extremely difficult to tell that the person is living with a mental illness at all. However, this does not necessarily mean that the person with bipolar disorder is healthier, and a depressed mood or persistent depressive episodes is one common sign of a high functioning person with bipolar disorder. A person with high functioning bipolar disorder may not exhibit any signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder publicly and may be capable of functioning at work or school. They may be capable of making decisions and hiding major depressive episodes. With that said, it’s equally as important for those who experience for high functioning bipolar disorder to receive treatment, as they are often more prone to anxiety and mental health issues due to constantly subduing and coping with their symptoms.

How Does A Person With Bipolar Disorder Think?

In the manic phase of bipolar disorder, it’s quite common for a person to experience heighted feelings of energy, creativity, and euphoria. Someone in a manic phase may be talking a mile a minute, sleeping very little, and being hyperactive. On the other side of the spectrum, a person living with bipolar disorder going through a depression high may exhibit the common signs and symptoms of a more severe form of depressed mood. These can be thoughts of hopelessness, appetite changes, feelings of worthless or guilt, and mental or physical sluggishness. There are free confidential treatment programs available to those who are living with bipolar disorder, and seeking treatment for mental illnesses via mental wellness professionals should always be done. With the right medical advice and treatment, anybody living with a health condition can lead as normal a life as anybody else.

Does A Bipolar Person Know They Are Bipolar?

In some cases, bipolar disorder has never been diagnosed in a person and they may never realize the specific clinical name for what they are experiencing. For the most part, though, people living with bipolar disorder are aware that their mental illness is not something everybody shares. They cannot control the depressed mood or manic episode they may be experiencing, but a person with bipolar disorder typically is aware what is happening. This is why receiving either free confidential treatment or attending treatment programs is so important. Medical advice and treatment strategies can help a person living with bipolar disorder cope with their depression high and lows as well as manic episodes. Online options such as red ventures company that connect people with sites they look for, such as those who seek medical advice being guided to Healthline Media websites, can help anybody receive treatment.

What Is Bipolar Rage?

Anger isn’t actually a common symptom of bipolar disorder, but irritability is. Oftentimes, this extreme irritability comes off as anger and may become as severe as rage. Those who are not experiencing treatment or being connected to health information on sites like Healthline Media through Red Ventures Company may be more prone to irritability through a lack of treatment and knowledge. Medication used to treat bipolar disorder can help with a depressed mood, depression high and lows, or manic episodes. These mood stabilizers will also typically help a person who is experiencing bouts of irritability. Receiving treatment can allow a person living with bipolar disorder to function normally at work or school, engage with social media, avoid a depressed mood or depression high, and all-around cope with bipolar disorder. As covered on Healthline Media, mood stabilizers can be extremely effective treatment methods for bipolar rage or irritability. 

You Don’t Have To Face Depression Alone. Our Experienced Counselors Can Help.

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