When you picture the word depression, what do you see? Off the top, images of disinterest, sadness, loneliness, emptiness, and hopelessness are likely some of the first to arise. These are interesting concepts because many people have a very clear idea and understanding of them, at least on the surface. In fact, there are six major types of depression that you can recognize if you know what to look for – chronic, atypical, postpartum, manic, seasonal, and psychotic. But what about when a loved friend or family member is living with high-functioning depression? Everything gets a lot harder when someone is good at masking their problems and you have no idea what you’re truly dealing with.
High-Functioning Depression: What is It?
Let’s clarify one truth: Just because someone’s condition is not visible, does not mean it isn’t real. We asked you to picture ‘depression’ at the start of this article, so let us paint one for you now.
Think of the interactions you’ve had today – the person who made your coffee, the gas attendant, a co-worker, your spouse or children. Your interactions are pleasant, you exchange glances and pleasantries, and they seem authentic. Little do you know, it took everything in their soul to get them out of bed today, they’re riddled with headaches, they feel utterly lonely standing in a sea of people, and the ‘devil on their shoulder’ is persistently feeding them negative thoughts.
But they do it all with a smile…and you never would have known.
Now, high-functioning depression shares some symptoms with more common and arguably more visible forms of depression, e.g., appetite changes, poor sleep, and emotional difficulties. It’s all the subtle signs, however, that are easy to overlook and dismiss as someone simply having an ‘off’ day. Below, we’ve included a list to help grow your understanding of high-functioning depression and how you can help others. Remember: knowledge is power; knowledge can save.
Depression: A Brief Overview
Over the decades, depression seems to have morphed into one of the world’s most serious medical illnesses. Worldwide, this epidemic is one of the leading causes of disease and injury and affects 20 million people in the United States.[2,3] As mentioned above, depression takes many forms, some of which can be unpredictable. Because everyone is on a different journey, cases may be similar but no case is the same.
This is especially true when you consider high-functioning depression, which sometimes shares symptoms like persistent sadness, hopelessness, irritability, and changes in appetite or weight. Now, everyone feels one or a combination of these things from time to time. But people who are truly depressed – not just feeling the blues – exhibit most of these feelings or behaviors every day to the point where you cease to function properly in daily life.
So, what does depression look like in people who mask it?
16 Realities People with High-Functioning Depression Wish You Knew
Huffington Post reached out to their ‘Lifestyle’ audience on this topic to hear firsthand what people suffering from high-functioning depression live with day in, day out.[4,5,6] We hope these personal experiences help you help others who may be living through the same struggle.
People find it difficult to comprehend the difficulty of their symptoms
“Because I can work full time and do well, own my own home and take care of everything myself, people underestimate just how deeply I struggle and how hard it is to function some days. It takes time to process things. Negative experiences stay with me for awhile when others can move on quickly. They just label me as negative, dramatic or too sensitive but it’s my process.” – Christine Dolan
High-functioning goes far deeper than just life’s circumstances
“I work full-time and I’m married. I try very hard to be ‘normal.’ People ask me ‘Why are you sad? You have everything. You’re so beautiful. You have a lovely husband, a good job, money, etc.’ If only they knew the turmoil in my head…it never goes away and it is very exhausting.” – Jayne SC
High-functioning depression doesn’t have to be seen to be real
“Just because I seem successful and look like I have it all together doesn’t mean I can’t be 5 minutes or one bad experience away from a total breakdown. And that fact scares the hell out of me.” – Michelle Martin Haywood
Little gestures go a long way
“I wish people would make more of an effort to come to me rather than expecting me to travel (a lot of my friends and family live a couple of hours away), it would take so much pressure off.” – Caitriona Foley
Seemingly easy activities, like going to work, feel like impossible tasks
“It’s hard enough holding it together but it’s even harder when you know people are misjudging you and not giving you credit just for getting out of bed.” – Christine Dolan
Feeling better isn’t as simple as an attitude adjustment
“People think you are lazy when it takes your entire will to get out of bed in the morning.” – Meredith Elmore
Frequent check-ins are greatly appreciated
“You should text and check on me, even if I don’t or can’t text right back. The thoughts are very, very exhausting so just getting through the day needs to be enough sometimes.” – Julie Kenney Myett
Outside appearances don’t always match inside ones
“From the outside, I look like I have it all together, but the truth is I find everything exhausting. Getting up, eating breakfast, taking my kids to school – all of it saps my energy. I walk around in a state of perpetual exhaustion.” – Jennifer Hazen
High-functioning depression can get in the way of social gatherings
“[I want them to] stop demanding that I attend every party with them because they need to I want some time alone.” – Samra Suleman
Distractions are helpful
“For me, it is having to be busy at all times. The point is to mentally exhaust myself so the bad thoughts don’t creep in as I lie in bed each night.” – Katherine Deubner
The condition isn’t anyone’s fault
“I wish I knew when I’m at my low points it’s no one’s fault. Sometimes I’m just sad, sometimes I juts need to lay in bed, sometimes I need him to do what I normally do around the house.” – Sandra Ringle
High-functioning depression can drain all your energy
“I wish my fiancée understood that some days, I can’t turn my depression off. I can’t always get out of bed immediately and take on the day like he does. I need to motivate and really push myself to do so, and it takes a great amount of effort.” – Lindsey Diamond
You aren’t doing anything wrong
“I wish he knew that even though he is the most amazing man I’ve ever met, there is a piece of me that is broken and has nothing to do with him. He could make me smile every day, but as soon as that switch gets flipped I will have a really hard time being able to pump the brakes on my depression and anxiety.” – Emily Thomas
High-functioning depression makes life a constant internal battle
“Basically it’s like an argument between my heart and my brain. While I’m crying my heart out my brain thinks, ‘What the hell is wrong with you. Look at how great things are!’ And my heart says, ‘If you can’t figure it out, we’re going to die.’ That what it seems like when for no obvious reason I find myself in a total emotional meltdown.” – Michael Aldieri
The condition is unintentionally isolating
“I wish he knew that I don’t want to shut him out, I just don’t know how to let him in.” – Liv Kerr
Get treatment – it can be life-changing
“It is a very difficult issue to live with especially if you have people depending on you all the time. I’m still aware every second of everyday about my feelings, my surroundings and how I’m going to get through the next fie minutes, but I’m glad for myself that I have figured out my life.” – Goldie Fantastic
If you or someone you know shows any of the symptoms listed throughout this article for most of the day, almost every day, for more than two weeks to the point where ‘doing life’ starts becoming impossible, you could be depressed (high-functioning or otherwise). We highly suggest that you confide in someone you can trust but, more importantly, speak with your primary care doctor. He or she will be able to screen you for depression and guide you through the next best steps so you can start living the life you deserve.
Please seek medical help immediately if you or someone you know is suffering from depression and to watch for these visible or ‘invisible’ signs of self-harm.