Depression is a mental health condition afflicting approximately one in six people. Depression can manifest with many different symptoms, impacting individuals in different ways.
High-functioning depression, although not an official mental health diagnosis, is used by mental health experts to describe when symptoms of a depressive disorder are present, but the patient appears normal and completely functional to the outside world. While not a recognized condition, high-functioning depression may indicate an actual clinical diagnosis of depression.

depression counselor

The term demonstrates the reality that depression can sometimes be an invisible illness, causing distress to the individual that others do not necessarily notice. Because the individual feels pressure to perform and not exhibit their symptoms, they often do not seek treatment. These people work with you, go to school with you, and may even live with you – but are adept at hiding their symptoms. This situation is also exacerbated by the fact that symptoms of depression are not uncommon and can be created by many other factors – such as irritability, fatigue, or insomnia.

High-functioning depression may look like any of the following:

  • Pervasive sadness or emptiness that cannot be shaken
  • Hopelessness or pessimism, cynicism that things will not get better
  • Guilt or feelings of low-self esteem and worthlessness
  • Irritability with others or anxiety over small things
  • Lack of interest in everything that used to bring joy or fulfillment
  • Self-imposed isolation, inclusiveness, and avoiding social situations
  • Fatigue
  • Speaking or moving slowly
  • Loss of focus and memory
  • Trouble with decision-making
  • Insomnia or restless sleep
  • Loss of appetite and weight fluctuations
  • Negative thoughts, including self-harm or suicide
  • Headaches, digestive issues, or cramps with no discernible cause

As you can see, those with ‘high-functioning’ depression can be experiencing serious symptoms, all while hiding any issues from their friends and family.

Potential Causes of High-Functioning Depression

Depression is a complex condition that is typically the result of a combination of factors, which may include:

  • Brain chemistry: Neurotransmitters and chemicals in the brain work to regulate mood, and an imbalance can lead to depression.
  • Genetics: Depression can run in families, and those individuals who have a relative living with depression may be predisposed to developing the condition.
  • Major life events: Traumatic or stressful life events, such as a divorce, estrangement, the loss of a job, or the death of a loved one, can cause the onset of depression.
  • Trauma: Traumatic or stressful environments can contribute to the development of mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder.)
  • Medical problems: Those with chronic pain, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or Parkinson’s disease may be more likely to experience depression at the same time. If you are battling a physical illness and have symptoms of depression, be sure to tell your physician how you feel.
  • Medications and Prescriptions: Certain medications include depression as a potential side effect.
  • Substance Abuse: Alcohol and recreational drugs can also aggravate or increase symptoms of depression.
  • Personality Disorders: Certain personality traits and predispositions can make someone more prone to developing depression.

In an upcoming blog, we will discuss the diagnosis and treatment of high-functioning depression.

Mental Health Counseling Can Help

The most important step you can take if you suspect you are suffering from depression is to seek help before your symptoms worsen. Denise Schonwald is a nationally certified mental health counselor who works with patients from coast to coast. Whether you have been diagnosed with depression or are concerned about how you have been feeling lately, call today to learn more.