High-Functioning Depression

When we think of having depression, we may automatically think of hopelessness, intense sadness, inability to care for ourselves, and withdrawing from relationships. While these are common signs of depression, not everyone with this diagnosis will present the same.

In fact, it is possible for someone to be struggling with mental illness, but they do such a great job at dealing with it that others may have no idea. This is called “high-functioning depression.”

What Is High-Functioning Depression?

High-functioning depression is not an official clinical diagnosis, but it is a term to describe individuals who have depression that is hidden so well that it does not impact their daily functioning. This may look like someone who is struggling with self-worth or feeling down, yet is still engaging with friends and maintaining responsibilities.

This type of depression can be difficult to identify due to less severe symptoms. Because the symptoms are not debilitating, you may not even realize you are struggling with a mental disorder.

Signs of High-Functioning Depression

Someone with high-functioning depression may still experience symptoms of major depressive disorder. However, this form of depression has some unique features:

  • Symptoms are less intense so they are seemingly more manageable
  • Ability to perform work responsibilities, maintain social relationships, and engage in daily tasks
  • Struggling with chronic symptoms, such as headaches or stomach pains, due to holding in emotions
  • Medicating with drugs or alcohol
  • Everything takes a tremendous amount of effort

Difference Between High-Functioning and Major Depression

Because the signs and symptoms of the two disorders are so similar, let’s talk about how to identify the differences. The main way to differentiate between the two is the severity and duration.

Major Depressive Disorder comes and goes in waves. These episodes can last from two weeks to six months and the symptoms impact daily functioning. You may begin to perform poorly at work, become unable to care for yourself, withdraw from friends and family, and even struggle to get out of bed. You may feel hopeless, distraught, and in severe cases, have suicidal thoughts.

With high-functioning depression, you may feel slightly off, or “gloomy” for months. There is no specific time frame for this type of depression. It can appear at any time, and you can live with it for quite a while.

You may feel spikes of happiness, but it won’t last very long. While you are able to get out of bed, you may feel extremely tired throughout the day. It may feel like a challenge to do anything for yourself, and while you still engage in these activities, it takes a lot of energy out of you.


High-functioning depression should still be treated as a mental disorder because it causes impairment and impacts your ability to enjoy life. The first step in getting better is to recognize you have a mental illness. As mentioned previously, it can be difficult to identify the signs, but once you do, it is important to take action and seek treatment.

Reach out to support systems, engage in pleasurable activities, and care for your physical health. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle will also be helpful in overcoming depression. A mixture of medication and therapy may also be beneficial.

Reach out to your primary care doctor, or a mental health professional to schedule an appointment. Therapy may be the best option when it comes to managing high-functioning depression. A therapist is trained to help you identity the signs and symptoms, while also teaching you effective coping skills and regulation techniques.

Just because the depression is “high-functioning” does not mean you are unable to receive help. Reach out and schedule a consultation today!