what is high functioning depression and how to recognize its early symptoms

What Is High-Functioning Depression and How to Recognize Its Early Symptoms

Depression

Tamika Lewis May 5, 2022

One of the most common terms regarding mental health you can hear around is high-functioning depression. This condition is extremely common among Americans, and the lifestyle we have today only adds to the prevalence. But what is high-functioning depression exactly, and how does it manifest in an individual? If you want to learn the basics of this mental disorder and find out how to deal with high functioning depression and the symptoms that go with it, just keep reading.

What Is High-Functioning Depression and How to Recognize It?

High-functioning depression is a term common in popular psychology that’s used to describe a mental illness where a person has all kinds of signs and symptoms of depression but manages to remain fully functional in most aspects of their life. Those who suffer from this disorder seem perfectly fine on the outside and can look satisfied and happy.

Still, they feel the same as those who show signs of clinical depression. However, their lack of visible symptoms often leads to misunderstanding of the disease – one of the most common misconceptions about depression is that you have to struggle to get out of bed or do even a single thing from your to-do list for the day.

What Is the Accurate Clinical Term to Describe This Illness?

Although most of us have heard of this problem and probably know a few people who have it, this illness isn’t technically an illness – or it’s better to say that it’s not officially recognized in the medical community under this name.

The proper term for high-functioning depression is actually persistent depressive disorder (PDD), formally known as dysthymic disorder. PDD is considered a mild form of clinical depression, and it involves signs and symptoms that are steady and present for at least 2 years.

Asian woman forcing a smile
People with PDD have all sorts of depressive symptoms that aren't visible

The Most Common Signs and Symptoms of This Mental Disorder

So, as the name suggests, people with this illness seem extremely functional. They go about their life with success in most spheres – they don’t lack professional or academic achievements, and they maintain healthy relationships and contact with friends and family. However, inside they suffer on variable levels.

Suffering in Silence – What Does High-Functioning Depression Look Like?

This kind of hidden depression can present an issue for diagnosing. If you think that you or someone you know have this mental illness, it’s important to learn what kind of symptoms a person with PDD can have. Here are the most common issues they face:

  • Low energy,
  • Irritability, anger, or trouble calming down,
  • Changes in appetite,
  • Sleep issues – insomnia or oversleeping,
  • Feelings of hopelessness, sadness, or emptiness,
  • The trouble with concentration,
  • Thoughts of guilt or regrets about the past,
  • Persistent negative thoughts,
  • Frequent tearfulness,
  • Lack of self-esteem.

It Can Take a While to Realize You Have This Disorder

Although it is classified among mild disorders, for a person who is suffering, things can look pretty hard – which is understandable, as any changes in mental health can be hard on an individual. Still, a common issue here can be the unawareness that this is depression. People have an image of what depressive disorders should look like, and an extremely functional person definitely doesn’t fit that description.

That’s why it might take you a while to figure out what’s going on with you and why you feel so different. Thanks to the common misconceptions about mental illness, you might also have difficulty explaining to your loved ones that you’re struggling – be prepared to be misunderstood.

People With High-Functioning Depression Often Don’t Want to Receive Treatment

Highly functional people are often those who have set themselves great goals, and they are usually perfectionists. Being a perfectionist who is extremely focused on achieving something, however, can be one of the risk factors for depressive disorders.

If you seem to be doing great in life, you might think that you have no right to be depressed – a person like this can have trouble admitting to struggle or experience repulsion toward mental health and self-care tactics. That leads to refusing any help and treatment. This, combined with diagnosing issues, leads to a high number of untreated individuals.

Ignoring the Issue Won’t Make It Go Away – It Can Even Get Worse With Time

So, let’s say you feel embarrassed because of your struggles, and you refuse treatment or any kind of help your loved ones are offering. Can you make the issue go away by refusing to think about it or face it? The answer is obvious – just like any other problem, a mental health one won’t go away on its own. In fact, these kinds of disorders only get worse with time. The more you put off seeking help, the worse it can get.

And here’s another catch – when you finally do reach out and get proper treatment, the recovery will take longer than it would if you started treatment earlier. This goes for most psychiatric disorders, and it’s one of the reasons why we have to continue battling the stigma surrounding mental health.

Smiling woman in a red T-shirt sitting by the desk in the office, laptop in front of her
Don't put off seeking help for even a single day - it will only make things harder

How to Treat High Functioning Depression?

Now that we understand what this issue looks like, the question is – how do we treat it? Just like with other depressive disorders or anxiety issues, PDD is best managed with a combined therapeutic approach – medication and therapy sessions.

It’s important to mention that an individualized approach is of utmost importance – it might take time for your healthcare provider to figure out the right way to handle the issue, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t see the improvement right away.

Therapy Is Essential for Recovery

Psychotherapy is the key to efficient recovery, and you will hardly be able to cure the illness without it – in some cases, it might be impossible. Some don’t like the therapy approach because it requires actively engaging in a session, and there are people who don’t easily open up.

However, keep in mind that you can’t solve the problem without talking about it. Discussing the issues with your therapist will help quickly uncover the root of your problem, which will allow the therapist to find the most efficient way to address it.

Therapy Often Needs to Be Combined With Medication

There are cases when therapy needs to be combined with medication – more severely affected patients might not be able to follow the sessions and participate in them because of their illness. As we’ve mentioned, depressive disorders can affect the ability to concentrate. So, mixing medication with talking therapy can be an excellent way to cure the disease.

Most commonly prescribed drugs for PDD are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and other options include the use of tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).

Self-Care Can Be an Additional Tool in Battling These Disorders

Although self-care ideas can’t cure the disease, they can be pretty helpful as an additional tool if you’re already going to therapy and using medication. Taking care of yourself is always important, and it becomes crucial when you’re struggling with mental health. What do we mean by that? It doesn’t have to be anything complicated – all you need to do is maintain a healthy sleeping schedule, eat good food, and add moderate physical activity to your routine.

It doesn’t sound like real advice when you hear it like this – we all try to do this regardless of our issues, right? Well, not exactly – when you experience depressive symptoms, it can be hard to make yourself do anything, so the lifestyle loses its significance. Don’t let that happen!

a-woman-talking-to black therapist
Sessions with a good therapist are the essence of dealing with these disorders

Finding the Right Treatment Method and a Good Therapist Can Take Time

After you’re diagnosed with this illness, it becomes obvious that you should see a therapist. The next challenge you will face before things get better is choosing a great therapist who will make you feel comfortable and understood. It’s important to note here that, sometimes, even if you find a highly-qualified therapist, they might not be a good fit for you, and changing therapists is a common occurrence that you shouldn’t fear. So, being persistent is the key. To get one step closer to healing, you must dive right in – it’s time to book your first therapy appointment. If you want to begin recovery, contact WOC Therapy and book your session.

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