Sometimes people may experience symptoms of depression, but may still be able to go about their daily lives and meet their responsibilities, wearing a smiling mask, living with a condition known as high-functioning depression or persistent depressive disorder or dysthymia.  People with high-functioning depression frequently have an outward appearance of accomplishment, motivation, and calmness, making it difficult for others to understand their internal suffering.

In this article, we explore the symptoms, causes, and diagnosis of what is frequently referred to as high-functioning depression, as well as some possible treatments.

Breaking the stigma: Understanding high-functioning depression

First, let us have a quick glimpse at depression.

People suffering from depression find it difficult to get out of bed, struggle to leave the house, lose interest in activities they usually enjoy (such as hobbies, going to restaurants, movies etc), struggle to maintain relationships, and may even have lost their jobs as a result of their diminished sense of purpose and motivation, and they exhibit overt symptoms.

But, people with high-functioning depression are often adept at hiding their emotional pain, putting on a mask of normalcy in social and professional settings.  Hence, overt symptoms are so uncommon in these people and it can be quite challenging to identify them. 

They are

  • often disciplined
  • excel in their careers
  • succeed in keeping up a healthy lifestyle
  • positive interpersonal relationships, and
  • fulfill responsibilities

while privately struggling with their mental health.

Intense internalized stress and self-criticism can go hand in hand with high-functioning depression.

Causes:  High-functioning depression has a complicated origin/etiology that may involve a number of genetic, biochemical, environmental, and psychological elements.  Its onset may be influenced by traumatic events, ongoing stress, familial history of depression, and abnormalities in brain chemistry.

You may be at risk of developing high-functioning depression if you have a first-degree blood relative with depressive disorders, experience any stressful life events, or negative personality traits, or history of other mental health disorders.

What are the symptoms of high-functioning depression, and how can we know if a loved one is affected?

Emotional and physical symptoms of high-functioning depression may include,

  • Persistent feelings of sadness or feeling emptiness
  • Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, guilt, pessimism, irritability, anxiousness, tiredness
  • Losing interest in almost everything
  • Withdrawal behavior from near and dear ones
  • Talking slowly or moving slowly
  • Having trouble focusing, remembering, or making decisions
  • Sleep changes and difficulties
  • Changes in appetite and weight
  • Thoughts about death, self-harm, or suicide
  • Physical symptoms like cramps, aches and pains, headaches, and digestive issues that don’t have any clear etiology and don’t get better with treatment
  • Inability to experience the joy
  • Reduced energy
  • Feeling fatigued most of the time
  • Being self-critical
  • Blowing things out of proportion
  • Increased self-doubt
  • Hard time relaxing
  • Maladaptive coping mechanisms including substance abuse, reckless behavior, and spending hours on social media or watching television.

To conclude,

High-functioning depression is both a biological and emotional problem that needs to be looked at and treated.  Even though individuals with high-functioning depression may appear functional, it’s essential for them to seek treatment and support.

If high-functioning depression is untreated, it can worsen over time, impacting both physical and mental health, relationships, and overall quality of life, and there is a high risk that the symptoms could get worse and possibly trigger a suicide attempt.

Reaching out to a mental health professional who can provide appropriate direction, support, and the best possible treatment options is essential if you or someone you love is experiencing high-functioning depression.  Professional help, such as psychotherapy and medication can help manage this disorder.  Lifestyle changes, stress management, support networks like family, friends, and support groups, and self-care, with a treatment plan tailored to the specific needs of the individual can be helpful.

It is quintessential to remember that asking for assistance is a sign of strength and can result in holistic well-being.

Happy living 😊

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