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  • Writer's pictureBright Light Counseling Center

What to Know About High-Functioning Depression

Depression can often be hard to spot. It’s not always as obvious, and its effects can vary from person to person. Sometimes, it disguises itself as functionality, making it tricky for both the person experiencing it and those around them to identify. This type of depression is known as high-functioning depression, and understanding its subtleties is important for providing effective support and treatment.

What Is “High-Functioning” Depression?

woman sitting at home office working

High-functioning depression is a type of depression where individuals can maintain their daily responsibilities and appear to be functioning well on the surface. However, beneath the surface, they are struggling with persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and emptiness.

One of the key characteristics of high-functioning depression is the ability to mask symptoms. Those experiencing high functioning-depression may excel at work or school, maintain relationships, and participate in social activities, all while battling overwhelming feelings of despair. This ability to maintain a façade often leads to the misconception that everything is okay, making it challenging for individuals to seek help or for others to recognize the signs.

People with high-functioning depression often mask their symptoms due to social expectations, fear of stigma, and a misunderstanding of their depression and mental health symptoms.

Society frequently values productivity and outward success, pressuring individuals to meet these standards and avoid being seen as weak or incapable. The stigma surrounding mental health issues can lead to concerns about discrimination or judgment, prompting people to hide their struggles. Additionally, the chronic and less severe nature of high-functioning depression might cause individuals to believe their condition isn't "bad enough" to warrant attention, leading them to minimize or mask their symptoms.

Professional concerns, self-identity, and the desire to protect relationships also contribute to this masking behavior. Fear of negative consequences at work, such as job security or career progression, can result in concealing depressive symptoms in professional settings. People often derive their self-worth from their achievements, making it difficult to admit to depression without feeling like a failure.

two friends sitting on a couch taking a selfie

Moreover, individuals might hide their symptoms to avoid burdening friends and family with their emotional struggles. In some cases, masking depression serves as a coping mechanism, allowing individuals to deny the reality of their condition. These factors collectively make it challenging to recognize and address high-functioning depression, both for the affected individuals and those around them.

The Warning Signs

It’s essential to recognize the signs and symptoms of high-functioning depression to provide appropriate support and intervention. Some common indicators include:

man holding his head in his hand looking off to the side

  • Persistent feelings of sadness or emptiness, even when everything seems to be going well

  • Fatigue or low energy levels, despite getting adequate rest

  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions

  • Irritability or agitation

  • Changes in appetite or weight

  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness

  • Social withdrawal or isolation, despite maintaining social obligations

What Treatment Is Out There?

Treatment for high-functioning depression often involves a combination of therapy and, in some cases, medication. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is particularly effective in helping individuals identify and challenge negative thought patterns that contribute to their depression. Additionally, therapy provides a safe space for individuals to explore their emotions and develop coping strategies to manage symptoms.

In addition to CBT, our clinicians incorporate other therapeutic techniques to help cope with high functioning depression. We also love Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). This approach helps people recognize and accept their chronic low mood and other depressive symptoms without judgment, reducing the additional distress that comes from trying to fight or control these emotions or hide their emotions and struggles from others.

Medication, such as antidepressants, may be prescribed in conjunction with therapy to alleviate symptoms of depression. Individuals can work with their primary care physician to find the right medication and dosage that works for them.

Suggestions to Reduce Depression Symptoms

In addition to professional treatment through counseling or medication management (or both), several strategies can help individuals manage high-functioning depression on a day-to-day basis:

  1. Daily Affirmations: Start your day by affirming yourself with positivity. Repeat phrases like “I am resilient,” “I am loved by everyone around me,” or “I am a good person,” to boost your self-esteem and set a positive tone for the day. Even if you don’t believe what you are saying at that moment, affirmations are a proven way to trick your brain into a better mood.

  2. Mood Tracking: Keep track of your mood throughout the day using a journal or mood-tracking app. This can help you identify patterns, triggers, and coping strategies that work best for you, allowing you to more effectively manage your mood. One of our favorite mood tracking apps right now is: How We Feel App

  3. Time Away from Technology: All forms of media present constant noise in our minds. Challenge yourself to get away from screens for designated periods. Use this opportunity to reconnect with yourself and others, do things you enjoy with people who make you happy, and build a practice of mindfulness in your daily life.

  4. De-Stress Yourself: Identify sources of stress in your life and take steps to minimize them. This may involve cutting people off from your life, delegating tasks at work, or seeking professional help. Verbalizing your emotions to a therapist, friend, or loved one takes an emotional weight off your shoulders.

  5. Structured Routine and Goal Setting: Establish a structured daily routine that includes time for work, self-care, hobbies, and social activities. To slowly move towards a structured routine, set small, achievable goals to create a sense of accomplishment and purpose. A structured routine can provide stability and predictability, reducing feelings of overwhelm. Achieving small goals can enhance motivation, build self-esteem, and promote a sense of progress and control over your life.

  6. Reaching Out for Support: Gradually reach out and share your experiences with trusted friends or family members, and ask for their support. Sharing your feelings can reduce the sense of isolation often associated with high-functioning depression. Building a support network can provide emotional comfort, practical advice, and a sense of connectedness, making it easier to navigate difficult times.

  7. Consider professional help: Therapy for depression can provide tools to cope with challenging emotions and situations.

High-functioning depression is a complex condition that can be challenging to recognize and manage. If you or someone you know is struggling with high-functioning depression, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. We are here to help you manage your depression. Contact us today to schedule an appointment!


Disclaimer: Our content is on and related to the topic of mental health. The content is general information that may or may not apply to you. The content is not a substitute for professional services. This website does not contain professional advice, nor is any professional-client relationship established with you through your use of this website.


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