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High Functioning Depression | La Hacienda

High Functioning Depression

Everyone is fighting a battle that no one else knows about. Many people may appear happy and well put together, especially in front of family, friends, colleagues, and others. However, that may not be the case behind closed doors. 

While depression impairs how many people deal with life, others may be able to function almost normally. Those people may have high functioning depression.

This blog post explores everything you need to know about this type of depression, including its symptoms and possible treatments.

What is High Functioning Depression?

High functioning depression, though not an official diagnosis, is a term used to describe individuals who experience persistent depressive symptoms while maintaining a seemingly functional and successful outward appearance. 

Although not a formal diagnosis, high functioning depression represents a significant subset of people with mental health challenges that are adept at concealing their internal struggles. Others may also refer to this condition as “smiling depression” or “hidden depression.”

Individuals with high functioning depression may excel at work, school, or other aspects of life, but internally, they battle persistent feelings of sadness, emptiness, and hopelessness. We must recognize that just because someone appears successful and put together on the outside doesn’t mean they aren’t suffering on the inside.

Importance of Understanding and Recognizing High Functioning Depression

High functioning depression is more common than people may realize. The misconception that those with depression are always visibly struggling can lead to subtler struggles being overlooked or dismissed. People with mild depression may go unnoticed, even by close friends and family, which can hinder their ability to seek treatment and support.

Understanding and recognizing depressed mood from any mental health condition is essential for early intervention and support. If left untreated, this mental health condition can worsen, leading to severe depression, major depression, addiction, and self-destructive behaviors. By shedding light on high functioning depression, we can reduce stigma and encourage those affected to seek help without fear of judgment.

Persistent Depressive Disorder Vs. Major Depressive Disorder

Persistent depressive disorder (PDD), also known as dysthymia, is typically the clinical diagnosis used for high functioning depression. Mental health professionals characterize PDD as a long-lasting depressive episode that persists for two years or more.

In contrast, major depressive disorder (MDD) is the more severe form of depression that presents more severe and episodic depressive symptoms lasting at least two weeks. MDD is also known as major depression or clinical depression.

Additionally, those with persistent depressive disorder can often still function normally, while those with major depressive disorder experience a significant impairment in their daily lives. Major depressive disorder can cause people to perform poorly at work or school, neglect responsibilities, and become disinterested in activities they usually enjoy.

Symptoms of High Functioning Depression

Persistent Depressive Disorder | La Hacienda

People with high functioning depression may exhibit the following symptoms:

Persistent Sadness and Emotional Numbness –

Individuals often experience prolonged sadness or emotional numbness, making it challenging to enjoy activities they once found pleasurable.

Fatigue and Low Energy –

Persistent feelings of fatigue and constant low mood can make everyday tasks seem overwhelming for those with this mental health condition.

Cognitive Difficulties –

Depression can affect cognitive functions, leading to difficulty concentrating, memory gaps, and decision-making problems.

Increased Irritability and Frustration –

Some individuals may experience heightened irritability, impacting their interactions with others.

Sleep Disturbances and Changes in Appetite

Insomnia , feeling tired, or oversleeping, as well as changes in appetite resulting in weight loss or gain, are common symptoms of depression.

Difficulty Maintaining Relationships –

Depression can lead to social withdrawal and difficulty maintaining healthy relationships with friends and family.

Characteristics of High Functioning Depression

High functioning depression may not be easy to pinpoint. Those with this condition may exhibit the following traits:

  • External Appearance Vs. Internal Struggles: Individuals often maintain a facade of normalcy, masking their internal struggles and emotions.
  • High Achievers and Overachievers with Depression: It is not uncommon for individuals who have high expectations of themselves or are overachievers, driven by societal pressures.
  • The “Mask” of Functionality: They may become experts at hiding their emotional pain and depression behind a facade of success and accomplishment.
  • Fear of Vulnerability and Seeking Help: Fear of being seen as weak or vulnerable may prevent individuals from seeking help or confiding in others.

Causes and Triggers of High Functioning Depression

Several factors can trigger high functioning depression in people. These elements include:

  • Genetic Factors and Family History: Family history and genetic predisposition play a significant role in the development.
  • Neurobiological and Chemical Imbalances: Imbalances in brain chemicals, such as serotonin and dopamine, can contribute to depressive symptoms.
  • Environmental Stressors and Life Events: Stressful events, such as trauma, loss, or significant life changes, can trigger or exacerbate high functioning depression.
  • Coping Mechanisms and Avoidance Behavior: Unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as excessive alcohol consumption or substance abuse, can be intertwined with mood and depression as individuals seek temporary relief from their emotional pain.

Impact of High Functioning Depression on Daily Life and Relationships

Individuals with high functioning depression may experience the following problems:

  • Challenges at Work or School: High functioning depression can impact productivity and performance at work or school.
  • Strained Personal Relationships: Difficulties in emotional expression and connecting with others can strain personal relationships.
  • Difficulty Seeking Support from Friends and Family: Fear of burdening others with their struggles may prevent individuals from seeking emotional support from friends and family.
  • Self-isolation and Loneliness: Feelings of isolation and loneliness can become a self-reinforcing cycle, exacerbating the symptoms of high functioning depression.

Risks and Complications of High Functioning Depression

While symptoms of high functioning depression or PDD may be manageable for some, others may experience complications that may intensify over time.

  • Escalation of Symptoms: Untreated high functioning depression may lead to a worsening of symptoms and the potential development of more severe mental health issues.
  • Development of More Severe Mental Health Issues: High functioning depression can be a precursor to other mental health conditions if left unaddressed.
  • Increased Risk of Self-harm and Suicidal Thoughts: The risk of self-harm and suicidal thoughts is present in individuals with high functioning depression, just as in those with other forms of depression.
  • Adverse Effects on Physical Health: The toll of depression on mental health can also impact physical well-being, leading to health problems, chronic pain, and a compromised immune system.

Diagnosis and Assessment

The lack of apparent signs and reluctance to seek help can make identifying high functioning depression difficult. It’s crucial to be aware of the common signs to be able to help those with this condition.

A thorough evaluation by a mental health professional is crucial for accurate diagnosis and treatment planning. They can help distinguish high functioning depression from other mental disorders with similar symptoms to ensure appropriate treatment.

Coping Strategies and Treatment

There are ways to treat high functioning depression. These treatment options may include:

  • Psychotherapy and Counseling Options: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), behavior therapy, talk therapy, and stress management can be effective in treating high functioning depression.
  • Medication: Antidepressant medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), may be prescribed with therapy to help manage symptoms.
  • Lifestyle Changes and Self-care Practices: Implementing self-care routines, engaging in physical activity, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help people manage high functioning depression.
  • Support Groups and Peer Networks: Joining support groups or engaging with peer networks can provide a sense of understanding and community for individuals with high functioning depression.

La Hacienda Addition Treatment Center Treats Dual Diagnosis

One thing is for certain, fully functioning individuals can be diagnosed with a dual disorder such as addiction and depression. Mental illness is sometimes masked by drugs and alcohol. Once the substance abuse stops, what appeared as mental illness ceases to exist. On the other hand, since both mental illness and alcoholism and addiction are hereditary, when a person stops drinking or using drugs, they present with a mental health condition.

Since 1972, La Hacienda located in Hunt, Texas, has been helping women and men find recovery. From board room executives to young mothers – addiction is a treatable disease and La Hacienda has been guiding people to lasting recovery.

If you or someone you know is struggling with high functioning depression or any other mental illness, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. The journey to healing and recovery starts with seeking support from the right team of medical staff and compassionate mental health professionals who can guide you toward a brighter future.

At La Hacienda Treatment Center, our team provides comprehensive mental health treatment to those who also have a substance use disorder. We tailor our treatment plan to each individual’s needs. Contact us today and take the first step toward reclaiming your life from high functioning depression.