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Symptoms of High-Functioning Depression

The symptoms of depression can be easy to spot. However, the symptoms of high functioning depression may not be.

People who struggle with high-functioning depression may have what appears to be a successful or even enviable life. They may sit in the corner office, drive an expensive car, and have a wall filled with awards and other accolades. But their ability to hide or mask their internal distress is likely to be unsustainable. No matter what their life looks like from the outside, anyone who has high-functioning depression needs help. 

The symptoms of high functioning depression can be similar to depression, however, are typically much less severe. Most people who struggle with this are functional, yet struggling inside. The good news is depression is a treatable condition.

What is High-Functioning Depression?

High-functioning depression is a term that is typically used when a person demonstrates outward signs of personal and/or professional success while struggling with a depressive disorder. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is the standard reference book for clinicians in the United States, does not contain an entry for high-functioning depression. This does not mean that it isn’t a legitimate concern, though.

Most people who have high-functioning depression meet the criteria for persistent depressive disorder, or dysthymia. This form of depression is characterized by symptoms of variable acuity that last for two years or longer. Sometimes, these symptoms become so severe that they prevent a person from functioning in one or more important parts of life. At other times, they affect a person’s mood and energy levels at a less-than-debilitating level.

A person who has high-functioning depression may find ways to work around or push through the symptoms they are experiencing. This does not mean that high-functioning depression symptoms are harmless, though. Anyone who has developed this disorder may be in crisis, and they deserve effective professional help.

Symptoms of High-Functioning Depression?

Woman helping friend who has high functioning depression symptoms

High-functioning depression symptoms are similar to those of “standard” depressive disorders. The primary differentiator is that people who have high-functioning depression may be more adept at hiding the evidence of their disorder. The following are examples of common symptoms of high-functioning depression:

  • Sense of sadness or despair
  • Fatigue or exhaustion
  • Diminished capacity for experiencing joy
  • Insomnia (difficulty falling and staying asleep)
  • Hypersomnia (sleeping much more than normal)
  • Loss of interest in hobbies, leisure pursuits, or topics that used to be important to the person
  • Changes in appetite and resultant unintentional weight gain or loss
  • Mood swings
  • Thoughts of death and dying

Although a person who has high-functioning depression may experience many of the symptoms above, they may continue to throw themselves into work, volunteer activities, and other efforts. 

They may do this to mask the fact that they have been struggling with high-functioning depression symptoms. They may also engage in these activities as a means of distracting themselves from their emotional turmoil. 

Though it can be difficult to detect the signs and symptoms of high-functioning depression, this does not mean that a person is effectively managing their self-defeating emotions. If you suspect someone that you care about is living with high-functioning depression, don’t ignore your concerns. Help them get the treatment they need.

The Effects of High-Functioning Depression

Even if a person appears to be functioning at a high level, they are still at risk for the significant negative outcomes that can result from untreated depression. If a person doesn’t get proper care, they may experience the following effects of high-functioning depression:

  • Job burnout, diminished performance at work, and job loss
  • Difficulties in the context of personal and professional relationships
  • Development or worsening of co-occurring mental health concerns
  • Abusing and becoming addicted to alcohol or another drug
  • Medical problems due to poor self-care
  • Increasing sense of hopelessness or helplessness
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide

The longer a person lives with high-functioning depression symptoms, the greater their risk may become for these and other effects. But when a person gets the type and level of care that’s right for them, they can reduce their risk for continued harm. While they are in treatment, people can also begin to heal from any harm they have already experienced as a result of their high-functioning depression.

What Do High-Functioning Depression Symptoms Feel Like?

While most clinical studies designate the symptoms of high-functioning depression, they do not elaborate to what high-functioning depression feels like. In general, here’s how a person with high-functioning depression feels.

  • Tired, lethargic, or unable to get enough or is getting too much sleep
  • You feel down, gloomy, or cynical most of the time
  • You feel “lazy,” and cannot find the energy to do more than basic functioning
  • You take care of your obligations, but it takes more effort than usual
  • You may feel hopeless or cry for no reason
  • You force yourself to engage in social activities even though you would rather skip them
  • You do well in school or at work but find it difficult
  • You lose or gain weight because you have no appetite or overeat
  • You feel terrible about yourself
  • You self-sabotage. You feel unworthy like you don’t deserve good things or happy relationships

How is High-Functioning Depression Treated in Nashville, TN?

Depressive disorders are often treated with a combination of medication and therapy. When a person enters treatment for high-functioning depression, one of their first activities should be to complete a thorough assessment. This ensures that the professionals who are providing their care can develop a customized treatment plan to address the full scope of their needs. Several types of prescription medications can ease some symptoms of high-functioning depression. Examples include the following:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Paxil or Zoloft
  • Serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) such as Cymbalta or Effexor
  • Norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitor (NDRI) such as Wellbutrin

Therapy can be a vital element of treatment for high-functioning depression. During therapy sessions, people can address the root causes of their depression. They can also develop the skills that will help them manage the symptoms of high-functioning depression that aren’t alleviated by medication alone. Here are examples of therapies and related services that can be beneficial for people who have depression:

These and other services may be offered at the residential, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, or outpatient levels. Some people may need to complete treatment at multiple levels of care, while others may exit treatment after only completing one level. 

There is no universal path of recovery from high-functioning depression. What’s most important is identifying the medications, therapies, supplemental services, and levels of care that are right for each person who needs help.

Find Treatment for Depression in Nashville, TN

Arbor Wellness offers a full continuum of care for adults who have high-functioning depression. Adults who receive treatment at our center in Nashville, Tennessee, follow customized treatment plans that feature an array of evidence-based services. If you are struggling with the symptoms of high-functioning depression, the Arbor Wellness team is here for you. Give us a call or visit our admissions page today to get started.

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