High-Functioning Depression: 7 Signs and Symptoms

Those who experience depressive symptoms but can still go through the motions of their day are sometimes described as having high-functioning depression.

Depression can vary in severity and impact people in different ways. Those who experience depressive symptoms but can still go through the motions of their day are sometimes described as having high-functioning depression. High-functioning depression symptoms can range from feelings of hopelessness and despair to changes in sleep and appetite.

Here’s what to know about high-functioning depression and some common signs and symptoms.

What is High-Functioning Depression?

High-functioning depression is used to describe individuals who can carry out their daily tasks while coping with hidden symptoms of depression. People with high-functioning depression may appear fine on the outside but often struggle internally. Unlike a depression slump, which can affect every aspect of life, those with high-functioning depression may maintain a relatively stable routine, such as going to work, fulfilling household responsibilities, and socializing with friends and family. However, they still experience inner turmoil that diminishes their quality of life.

It is important to note that high-functioning depression is not a formal diagnosis. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR) does not recognize it as a clinical disorder. However, some consider it a form of persistent depressive disorder (PDD), also called chronic depression or dysthymia. PDD is a recognized condition, where someone experiences mild to moderate depression for more than two years.

What Causes Depression?

Depression can affect anyone and stems from a combination of environmental and biological factors, such as genetics, hormone imbalances, or traumatic life experiences. Some possible contributing factors to depression are:

  • Brain chemistry: Imbalances in neurotransmitters can disrupt mood regulation and lead to depression.
  • Genetic predisposition: A family history of depression can increase your chances of having depression. 
  • Life stressors: Stressful life events like losing a job, ending a relationship, or the death of a loved one may trigger depression.
  • Trauma: Experiencing personal or intergenerational trauma may contribute to depression.
  • Other health issues: Dealing with a chronic health condition, like diabetes or cancer, or another mental health issue may also lead to the development of depression. 

High-Functioning Depression Symptoms and Signs

If you have ever found yourself wondering, “Do I have high-functioning depression?” you are not alone. Many of the signs of high-functioning depression are similar to clinical depression or major depressive disorder but are less severe. Because of this, people with high-functioning depression are often able to mask or hide their depression from others. 

Here are some of the more common signs and symptoms you may experience if you’re suffering from high-functioning depression:

1. Feelings of hopelessness and despair.

While outwardly you can maintain your daily routine, you may feel persistent sadness or hopelessness. Your mood is often low, and people may describe you as cynical or a downer. You struggle to find positives, and you may find yourself crying or feeling empty without any concrete reason.

If you or someone you know needs immediate support, call 9-8-8 any time of day for a safe space to talk.

2. Low motivation and interest.

A lack of passion and excitement about life is a common symptom of high-functioning depression. You may be able to complete your day-to-day responsibilities, like going to work or school and maintaining relationships, but this takes tremendous effort. You often don’t have the energy to do anything more than necessary. You may find that activities you once loved no longer bring you joy. 

3. Changes in diet and sleep patterns.

Another sign of high-functioning depression is eating too much or too little. You may experience changes in your appetite depending on your mood, which can cause your weight to fluctuate.

You may also experience sleep issues like insomnia. Even if or when you get enough sleep, you may still feel fatigued and have low energy levels throughout the day.

4. Difficulty concentrating and making decisions.

It may feel extremely challenging to focus on your tasks, whether at work or school. Even though you may complete everything, every accomplishment feels like a monumental effort. When faced with making a decision, you may be filled with anxiety and self-doubt, so even the smallest decisions seem impossible.

5. Poor self-esteem.

You may constantly criticize yourself and feel inadequate. Comparing yourself to others fuels your negative self-perception. When someone compliments you, accepting their words may be difficult. You may also question your self-worth and feel undeserving of happiness.

6. Social withdrawal.

While you may still attend social gatherings, you might feel like you're forcing yourself to be there. You may begin to withdraw from friends and family by cancelling plans or avoiding social events. This can contribute to feelings of loneliness and isolation, which can further exacerbate your depression.

7. Increased irritability.

When suffering from high-functioning depression, you might find yourself getting annoyed or upset easily, even over minor things. It can be challenging to process your emotions, so you may often feel overwhelmed or anxious. You might also feel like you are on edge all the time or even find yourself snapping at loved ones.

Find Support with Phare Counselling

If you are experiencing high-functioning depression symptoms, it can be valuable to work with a trained mental health counsellor. Even if you can seemingly complete daily tasks, high-functioning depression may be holding you back from a truly fulfilling life. Some treatments can help, including cognitive behavioural therapy and dialectical behaviour therapy

A mental health professional can help you manage your symptoms, enhance your mental well-being, and achieve a more balanced life. There are many ways to access therapy, even without insurance. Reach out to Phare Counselling for a free assessment. Contact us today!

Author Bio:

Wendy Chan is a writer and editor who is passionate about health, wellness, and self-care. She has worked in marketing and communications for nearly a decade, creating educational content for brands and companies across Canada. Since 2020, she has been a writer and researcher for Phare Counselling.

Wendy specializes in authoring informative and accessible content on mental health, wellbeing, higher education, and technology. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia. You can find her in Vancouver or Toronto, depending on the weather.

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