Subtle Yet Significant: Identifying High-Functioning Depression Symptoms

This article will help raise awareness about the often subtle yet significant symptoms of high-functioning depression. It will provide information on how to recognize these hidden signs, when to seek support, and prioritize mental well-being.

High-Functioning Depression Symptoms

Depression is the most common mental health disorder. There are several forms of depression, each of which come with varying levels of severity. The concept of high-functioning depression (HFD) refers to individuals who have depressive disorders but are able to function, and to a high degree, despite the symptoms of their disorder. This makes it very difficult to receive a proper diagnosis, let alone suitable professional help.

What are the symptoms of high-functioning depression?

Many of the high-functioning depression symptoms are the same as regular depressive disorders but align with someone who persists despite their emotional or cognitive indicators. 

Emotional Indicators

The first category of signs and symptoms of high-functioning depression includes emotional indicators.

– Persistent feelings of sadness or emptiness.

Those with depression are more likely to experience persistent feelings of sadness or emptiness. They might struggle to alleviate those feelings by taking on more activities, investing in more volunteer opportunities, or overworking, but they’ll still find that the feelings persist.

– Lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities.

It’s also common for individuals to no longer find pleasure or reward in activities and hobbies they once enjoyed. This can cause them to pull away or continually search for new activities, only to find that they battle with persistent emptiness.

– Feelings of hopelessness, but not to a debilitating degree.

High-functioning depression comes with the same feelings of hopelessness, only, those feelings aren’t debilitating. Someone experiencing high-functioning depression will feel hopeless most of the time but perhaps try to take control of their hopelessness by taking action, working harder, volunteering more, or otherwise keeping themselves so busy as not to have to deal with their emotions.

Cognitive Indicators

There are many cognitive symptoms of high-functioning depression too. 

– Difficulty concentrating or making decisions.

People struggling with high-functioning depression often have difficulty staying focused or making decisions. This can cause them to jump from task to task or project to project without ever achieving a complete result.

– Negative self-talk and persistent self-criticism.

There is often a lot of negative self-talk and a lot of self-criticism. People with high-functioning depression might criticize themselves for not being able to focus, for procrastinating, for working too much, or for feeling hopeless when they don’t believe that there’s a reason they should. But those same people are just as likely to keep overworking to avoid negative emotions and procrastinate.

– Overwhelming feelings of guilt or worthlessness.

There are often feelings of guilt or worthlessness that can encourage isolation from friends and family or excessive busyness, none of which help fix the problem.

Symptoms of High-Functioning Depression

Behavioral Indicators

Some signs and symptoms of high-functioning depression are behavioral.

– Procrastination and avoidance behaviors.

High-functioning depression symptoms can lead to regular procrastination and avoidance behaviors. Because of feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, or persistent emptiness, people might avoid doing things they know they need to.

– Isolation from friends and family, even if it’s subtle.

As is the case with all forms of depression, there is a risk of isolation from friends and family. With major depressive disorders, people might pull away completely, but with high-functioning depression, people might pull away in subtle ways, no longer going to that Weekly activity with friends or making up excuses but still texting.

– Overworking or keeping excessively busy to avoid negative emotions.

Most commonly, people who are high functioning with depression try to stay excessively busy so that they can completely avoid any of their negative emotions. They know that they don’t have time for their current obligations, but they will take on more just so they can avoid having to sit with feelings of emptiness or persistent hopelessness.

Physical Indicators

Even high-functioning people experience physical indicators. 

– Changes in appetite or weight.

There are physical indications like changes in weight and appetite. This is one of the most common physical indicators of any depressive disorder, including eating too much or too little.

– Sleep disturbances, like insomnia or oversleeping.

Similarly, sleep disturbances are equally common in depressive disorders. This, again, can include sleeping too much or sleeping too little.

– Low energy levels despite accomplishing daily tasks.

Low energy levels persist throughout the day despite accomplishing tasks. However, if an individual, for example, didn’t eat enough one day because they’re often eating too little, they might attribute it to that or explain away their low energy because of insomnia. All of this helps to continue to avoid reality. 

High-functioning depression in different life stages 

At different life stages, high-functioning depression can look unique. For example, teenagers with high-functioning depression might experience significant sleep disturbances, procrastination, and a lack of interest in hobbies.

Conversely, adults might focus on keeping excessively busy and experiencing low energy levels no matter how much they accomplish.

Seniors might be more likely to experience difficulty concentrating and persistent feelings of emptiness.

But no matter what age the signs and symptoms of high-functioning depression manifest, it’s important to talk to a mental health professional, get an assessment, and consider treatment where necessary. 

Signs and Symptoms of High-Functioning Depression

What are the dangers of overlooking high-functioning depression?

Anyone experiencing signs and symptoms of high-functioning depression is more likely to assume there might be something wrong but attribute it to a more dismissable excuse like poor sleep quality, not eating enough, or just being burned out at work.

The more often the symptoms of high-functioning depression are ignored, the worst they can get. Without recognizing high-functioning depression symptoms and getting professional help, individuals can go years without treatment. Without getting treatment, individuals are at a much higher risk of eventually self-medicating with things like drugs or alcohol. 

Co-occurring depression and substance abuse are one of the most common dual-diagnosis disorders, so it’s imperative to recognize high-functioning depression symptoms and get professional advice even if you aren’t sure you have it.

Summing Up

What are the symptoms of high-functioning depression? They are essentially the same as regular depression but are more easily written off as something else instead of a mental health disorder. It is important to prioritize mental well-being. 

If you experience any of these signs and symptoms of high-functioning depression, consider reaching out to a mental health professional who can provide an evaluation and diagnosis. If necessary, you can get help to treat your condition. Even if your evaluation and diagnosis confirm that it’s not high-functioning depression and it’s just overworking, you can find therapy and coping skills for that as well.