14 July | 3 min read.

High-functioning Depression:
Hidden in Plain Sight

Depression comes in various forms and can impact people differently.

Commonly, depression interferes with daily life and can be easily recognised. For example, we may look visibly jaded, become withdrawn, gain or lose weight, and speak less.

High-functioning depression is different. People with high-functioning depression can keep up appearances, and their life appears to be humming along nicely. There are usually few visible issues in their work, performance, how they go about life, and maintain relationships. However, they struggle inside just like others living with depression.

Close friends and family can miss the severity of their mood as everything seems to function per usual on the surface. Even in psychological diagnosis, determining if someone is significantly depressed is based on two main questions:

  • “how long have you felt depressed?” and,
  • “how much does it interfere with your capacity to complete your day-to-day tasks?”
  • We can miss the full picture of depression if the individual downplays their true thoughts and emotions.

    Thus, people with high-functioning depression often do not receive the necessary assistance, increasing the risk of deteriorating mental health.

    Signs of High-functioning Depression.

  • Wearing the mask of “no worries”
    • High-functioning depression usually involves keeping up appearances and showing that nothing is wrong, despite feeling unwell or empty. As a result, they learn to “fake it” and play a role they feel is expected from them. In therapy, we commonly hear, “I don’t even know why I’m here. Everything in my life is good.”

  • Shame and guilt spirals
    • Despite not giving away much on the exterior, on the inside, they may berate themselves with negative self-talk such as:

      • “I should not be praised. I could’ve done a better job.”
      • “People are just being nice. They don’t really mean it.”
      • “I’m wasting everyone’s time.”

      As a result, they may struggle with shame, guilt, and low self-esteem.

  • Good days and bad days aren’t what most people experience
    • People with high-functioning depression experience good and bad days differently than most people. While a good day for most people may be filled with joy, people with high-functioning depression often give a lower benchmark –the absence of feeling down or despair.

      Bad days may involve turmoil with feelings of shame, affliction, and constantly dragging themselves through the day.

  • Daily life is devoid of joy
    • Often those with high functioning depression do not fully acknowledge their struggle with negative self-talk, inner turmoil, and feelings of exhaustion. After a prolonged period, they can perceive that life has no meaning or hope

  • Difficulty seeking help and turning to a cycle of distraction
    • High-functioning depression can cause deep despair and even thoughts of suicide, although day-to-day functioning is not significantly impaired. Yet the appropriate level of support may not be there for them. The reasons for this are:

      • Downplaying the severity of their inner struggles
      • Perceiving their problems must be handled independently
      • Lacking faith that others can understand their situation
      • Not taken seriously when asking for help as their life seem to be functioning well on the surface

      All these reasons could reinforce beliefs that their issues do not warrant assistance. Instead, it can lead to a habit of blocking out low moods through distraction. This can range from drinking, sexual addiction, eating junk food, scrolling social media, and substance abuse. However, these habits can result in more feelings of guilt or shame.

    What Causes High-functioning Depression?

    High-functioning depression can come about from an interplay between multiple factors, such as:

    • Difficult life circumstances, like financial or career pressures
    • High emphasis on accomplishment
    • Unconscious rules and assumptions that influence harsh perceptions about self or setbacks
    • Not being able to find sustainable levels of joy, which compounds the sense of hopelessness

    Seeking Help.

  • Therapy with a psychologist
    • To receive the necessary assistance, please focus on expressing the intensity of the depressive emotions without downplaying them to your psychologist.

  • Being persistent for help from your loved ones
    • It is not easy to share complex emotions and thoughts with those around you, especially when they are not expecting it. Often an attempt is made by dropping hints or talking about your feelings in a downplayed manner. Unfortunately, the people around you may miss your signals as much as they love you. To find the support you require, please focus on accurately communicating the severity of your emotions.

  • Finding support groups
    • Support groups can be a rich source of information. They are usually free of charge. It allows a safe space to share and discuss your experience with others who are experiencing depression. Listening to others and expressing your emotions can bring more clarity and strategies towards feeling better.

      Please refer to Grow NSW or Neami National to find a support group.

    If you have any questions, please send them through via our Contact Us form or email us at human@biinu.com.au.

    Discover content that provides more insights into improving your mental health.

    View Insights
    Book Session