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Here’s How to Beat High-Functioning Depression

High-Functioning Depression has been in the spotlight lately. 

Even celebrities have come out about their experiences with it. 

But is it a real thing? And if yes, how do you beat it for good? 

In this blog, we’ll cover everything you need to know about high-functioning depression. 

Then, we’ll give you 3 proven ways to beat it. 

Let’s get started. 

Is High-Functioning Depression Real? 

First off, is high-functioning depression even real? 

The truth is that there is no official diagnosis, and “high-functioning depression” is a lay term. 

It’s valuable because it points out how subtle and hidden depression can be. 

We can be checking all the boxes – school, work, family, hobbies, etc. – while struggling on the inside. 

But because it’s not an official diagnosis, there is some controversy around using the term. 

The more scientific way to think about high-functioning depression would be to see it as another way to recognize persistent depressive disorder (PDD). 

PDD, previously called dysthymia, is a clinical term and can be diagnosed by a professional. We’ll cover symptoms below, but first… 

Alt text: what high-functioning depression looks like 

What High-Functioning Depression Looks Like 

Here’s what it looks like in different contexts.

High-Functioning Depression at Work: trouble focusing on tasks, withdrawing from coworkers, feeling irritable or easily annoyed, lower productivity or decreased activity, and difficulty concentrating. 

High-Functioning Depression in Relationships: Withdrawing from one’s partner or family, having to force yourself to engage socially, not enjoying old hobbies like sports, and feeling exhausted after social appearances. 

An Example of High-Functioning Depression

Elise (not her real name) is a working mother of 5, including 3 adopted kids. 

At work, Elise is a high achiever. 

Her bosses know they can count on her to get the job done, and she works overtime each week to support her family. 

In her family, Elise is known as the rock. When her mother passed away, relatives leaned on Elise for emotional and financial support. 

When she’s not working, Elise puts on movies and tries to zone out. 

The effort it takes to fulfill her responsibilities weighs on her, and this is a proven way to distract herself. 

Elise has high-functioning depression. 

You can see it in how much effort it takes for her to maintain her responsibilities. 

She is still able to function, but she’s got her gas pedal all the way to the floor just to go 50 miles an hour, so to speak. 

This highlights an important truth about high-functioning depression: the person who has it can still function, but not optimally

It takes Elise a colossal effort to manage her life due to her depression. 

Because depression is often an “invisible illness,” showing subtle or no signs, it can be hard to know who has it. 

How Common is High-Functioning Depression? 

Due to the hidden nature of depression and the surrounding stigma, statistics may never be fully accurate. 

Studies show that about 8.4% of the population will experience a depressive episode each year. That’s over 20 million people in the United States. 

From the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), “an estimated 2.5% of U.S. adults experience persistent depressive disorder at some time in their lives.” 

So, as you can see, high-functioning depression isn’t uncommon. Especially in the work-first culture of the U.S. today. 

The dual nature of high-functioning depression is this: those who have it look like they’re doing fine on the outside. But internally, they may be struggling. 

Constantly pushing yourself to your limit is a recipe for burnout. In fact, high-functioning depression and burnout are related. 

Those who have one are more likely to have the other. 

This is due to the mental, emotional, and physical stress of each. 

what high-functioning depression looks like

What are the Symptoms? 

The symptoms of high-functioning depression are like those of PDD, and to some extent Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). 

PDD is a low-grade depression that lasts for 2 years or more. MDD is an intense depression that lasts for 2 weeks or more. 

Mental Symptoms: 

  • Concentration challenges 
  • Indecisiveness 
  • Lowered productivity 
  • Persistent negative thoughts 
  • Difficulty focusing at work, school, or home 
  • Thoughts of death 
  • Considering self-harm or suicide 

Emotional Symptoms: 

  • Persistent feelings of emptiness 
  • Irritability, anger, annoyance 
  • Lack of self-compassion, being too self-critical 
  • Frequent crying 
  • Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or guilt 
  • Feelings of sadness and low mood 
  • Loss of pleasure or interest in activities you once enjoyed 
  • Feelings of anxiety and irritability 
  • Low self-worth and low self-esteem 
  • Frequent comments of regrets about the past 
  • Loss of interest in social activities 
  • Withdrawing from others around you 

Physical Symptoms: 

  • Physical symptoms with no clear cause such as headaches and digestive issues 
  • Feeling agitated or restless (e.g., agitated depression) 
  • Gaining or losing weight 
  • Unusual low or high appetite 
  • Oversleeping or insomnia 
  • Extreme fatigue 

It’s important to consult a medical professional if you’re experiencing physical symptoms. They can help to rule out other medical issues.

High-Functioning Depression vs Low Functioning Depression 

The main difference between high-functioning depression vs depression as we generally think of it, is the ability to function. 

People with the former still get their work done and their responsibilities met. Those with the latter may have trouble with daily functioning. 

That can mean trouble paying bills, getting to work, performing at work, engaging socially, and more. 

It can be hard to spot high-functioning depression because it hides behind a wall of functionality. That’s why it may even be harder for those who have it to know that they have it. 

They might think, “I’m functioning well so there’s nothing wrong.” 

Only by peeking under the surface can they know that something isn’t working for them. 

symptoms of high-functioning depression

What causes it? 


  • Eviction 
  • Loneliness 
  • Being bullied 
  • Major life changes 
  • Death of a loved one 
  • Chronic illness or pain 
  • Money concerns and worries
  • Stress due to financial problems 
  • Relationship challenges and conflicts 
  • Work, school, family, and home stress 
  • Misuse of substances that affect mood 
  • Living in an unsafe, fearful environment 
  • History of trauma, such as emotional abuse 
  • Mood instability due to biochemical factors 
  • An inherited predisposition to become depressed 

Risk factors

  • Genetics 
  • Social factors 
  • Life stressors 
  • Low self-worth 
  • High anxiety levels 
  • Prior mental illness 
  • Physical environment 
  • Personality neuroticism 
  • General psychological health 
  • Trauma and history of abuse 

As you can see, there are many factors that influence high-functioning depression. 

Additionally, feeling the need to hide your depression can make it worse over time. 

Here are common reasons someone may try to hide their depression: 

  • A family or culture that shuns speaking on mental illness 
  • Trying to power through by themself 
  • Fear of impacting your job or relationships 
  • Discomfort showing vulnerability or being perceived as weak 
  • Feeling ashamed of your depression 
  • Fear of abandonment once depression is admitted to 
  • You may not want to be a burden to others 
  • Trying to avoid attention 
  • Not believing you have depression in the first place 

The truth is that you’ll work through your depression faster by owning up to it, getting help from a professional, and following a plan. 

Can High-Functioning Depression Be Cured? 

Okay, you’ve made it to the part where we talk about how to stop high-functioning depression. Congrats! 

In this section, we’ll tackle the challenge of how to beat high-functioning depression at home and with the help of a mental health professional. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) 

Perhaps the best way to relieve your depression is to work with a licensed professional

In CBT, you’ll learn how to notice and challenge negative thinking patterns. You’ll also learn how to recognize and change behavior to lift your mood. 

The beauty of CBT is that it makes you more familiar with how your thoughts and actions influence your mood. 

By taking control of both and changing them over time, you can be happier on a day-to-day basis. 

To get started, reach out to a CBT therapist near you

Get Amazing Sleep to Cure Depression 

I’m sure you’ve heard of the power of sleep, but don’t skip this section. 

Did you know that melatonin is the most powerful antioxidant for humans? 

When you sleep, melatonin cleanses your brain and body. 

This can help you feel much better, but only if you’re getting the right amount of sleep.

We suggest speaking to a doctor about sleep and potential supplementation.

An easy way to get better sleep is to follow the 3-2-1 method: Stop eating 3 hours before bed, stop drinking 2 hours before bedtime, and turn off your cell phone 1 hour before bedtime. 

As therapists, we can discuss sleep hygiene with you to help you catch more quality zzz’s.

For more specific advice, consult a therapist or doctor. 

The Benefits of Exercise for Depression 

If you have depression or anxiety (which can lead to depression if untreated), perhaps exercise can give you relief. 

Exercise has been linked strongly to turning around depression and anxiety. It may help you feel good and have positive benefits on your overall health.

Exercise also has benefits for focus and attention, plus general good feelings through neurotransmitters like epinephrine. 

To get started, consult your physician and explore how to add exercise into your schedule.

treating high-functioning depression in Houston tx

Alt Text: treating high-functioning depression in Houston tx 

Can High-Functioning Depression Get Worse? 

Without treatment, yes, high-functioning depression can get worse. 

It can turn into Major Depressive Disorder if not taken seriously. 

Think of it like this: high-functioning depression is a consistent, low level of depression. It’s not getting better, and it’s not getting worse. 

That is, unless a serious trigger comes along. 

For example, if you lose your job while combating high-functioning depression, the stress could send you into a more serious form of depression. 

This is just another reason why it’s important to find support. As soon as you notice this may be a problem, seek help.

Start tackling your high-functioning depression now and avoid plummeting during harder times. 

When to Seek Help 

At Destination Therapy in Houston, we recommend seeking help before you reach a breaking point. 

Dealing with depression, high-functioning or not, is tough. And you don’t have to do it alone. 

Reach out today for a free 15-minute phone consultation. 

And if you enjoyed this blog, be sure to comment and share it on social media like Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. 

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