Signs of High Functioning Depression

Depression affects everyone differently. For some, it is debilitating, making it hard to get out of bed each day. Some days are spent in bed. For others, depression can be seasonal. The seasonal affective disorder occurs during certain seasons throughout the year. For most, it occurs during the winter months, when there is less sunshine and colder weather. As Spring arrives, the depressive symptoms fade. However, another type of depression is high functioning. So what makes high functioning depression unique, and what are the signs of high functioning depression?

By looking at someone with high functioning depression, you may think they are happy and living their best life. They may not exhibit outward signs of depression as you know it.

What Is High Functioning Depression?

The clinical name for high functioning depression is persistent depressive disorder (PDD). Or at least that is the type most closely related to the symptoms of high functioning depression. While many people use the term high functioning depression, it is not a diagnosable condition in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM5). This is the manual used by all licensed mental health professionals when evaluating and diagnosing someone’s symptoms.

To be diagnosed, your symptoms must be present for two years.

What Are the Symptoms of High Functioning Depression?

Symptoms of high functioning depression do not prevent someone from going to work, completing tasks, meeting deadlines, and even sharing laughs with friends, family, and coworkers. The symptoms are low-grade in that it is noticeable to the person feeling low but may not be noticeable to everyone else. Symptoms occur in extended periods over the course of years.

You may go for months feeling “normal” and then go months feeling this low-grade depression.

Symptoms can include:

  • Appetite changes, either loss of appetite or overeating
  • Sleep changes, either insomnia or oversleeping
  • Fatigue or feeling run down when you should have energy
  • Self-esteem issues
  • Concentration, focus, and decision-making problems
  • Feeling hopeless, unworthy, guilty, or having difficulty finding the value in life

What Are Signs of High Functioning Depression?

Because people continue to do well in certain areas of their lives, you must look closely to notice the signs of high functioning depression. If you know someone who never misses a day of work and always meets deadlines but avoids socializing and only wants to go straight home after work because they feel tired, they may have high functioning depression.

If someone seems to enjoy social activities but has trouble making decisions and seems disengaged at work, it could be PDD. It is as if one area of life thrives while the other suffers. If work is going well, then their social life or family relationships are struggling, broken, or nonexistent.

Who Gets High Functioning Depression?

Like all other mental health disorders, there is no single cause. It is a combination of risk factors or things that make it more likely you will experience a disorder. Risk factors known for depressive disorders include the following:

  • Genetics and biology. If it runs in your family, you are at risk. It is not guaranteed you will have it, but your chances increase if you have more risk factors.
  • Life stressors include personal and professional obligations, financial troubles, loss of a loved one, relationship problems, etc.
  • Past or present trauma, including physical, verbal, or sexual abuse. Other traumas are war combat, natural disasters, manmade disasters, tragedies, etc.
  • Substance use disorders and other mental health disorders, especially if untreated.

Subtle Symptoms of High Functioning Depression

High-functioning depression symptoms can be so subtle they go unrecognized. Or they are chalked up to someone having a bad day or being in a bad mood. Over time, these subtle hints help others form an opinion of you. They may think your symptoms are just part of your personality.

Subtle symptoms to look for include:

  • Inability to experience real joy. While someone with PDD can laugh, make jokes, and seemingly enjoy themselves when around others, they never seem to be able to reach full joy and happiness. For example, they may say they are excited to attend a concert but can’t show excitement emotionally or physically. They may watch the same hilarious movie with you, but they only chuckle while you cackle.
  • Making critical statements about themselves or others. They may come across as never being pleased or one that always looks for the faults in others and themselves. You may feel exhausted after trying to reason with them. Sometimes, you may avoid them altogether, so their negativity doesn’t affect you. Keep in mind their high functioning depression could cause their negativity.
  • Seeking perfection is another subtle symptom that contradicts their critical behaviors. They will never reach perfection because, well, that’s not possible. But also because they will never be satisfied with themselves or others. Trying to do everything right and on time causes significant stress and depression.

Additional Symptoms

Additional symptoms include always being on the go, which others see as having a lot of energy. In reality, they are striving for perfection. Taking a nap is never considered for fear of losing time to accomplish something. 

Also, letting small things become big things, fearing they will run out of time to get everything done, worrying they have made all the wrong decisions for themselves and their lives, and using alcohol or drugs to cope. In a person with PDD, substance misuse will look more like that must-have glass of wine when they get home from work or taking their child’s Adderall to help them focus and gain energy.

Treatment for High Functioning Depression

There are many treatment options for high functioning depression. By working with a licensed mental health professional, you can create a treatment plan based on your unique needs. Medication, group and individual counseling, support groups and telehealth counseling, and lifestyle changes are treatments that can help anyone with PDD overcome the inability to experience life to their fullest emotional potential.

If you think you may have high functioning depression, call our treatment team. We can discuss your symptoms and come up with a treatment plan that works.