What is ‘high functioning depression’ and could your loved one be suffering in silence?
When it comes to mental health, no two sufferers of depression will be exactly alike. Regarded as a milder form, but with the potential to become more harmful, you may have a loved one with high functioning depression and you’d likely have no idea. Psychologist Manna Maniago shares some of the subtle signs of this condition.
Have you ever heard of someone who has depression and you wonder to yourself, “How can he be depressed? He’s successful, he has a happy family, a great job, and he’s so active?”
Depression has many faces and can have different effects on different people. A highly functional person who seems to have it all together on the outside can also be depressive, and because this kind of depression is harder to detect, they may be suffering in secret. This is high functioning depression.
What is high functioning depression?
You may have a common notion of what depression is. Its subtype – high functioning depression – is a mild yet persistent form of depression that allows a person to relatively live a “normal” and accomplished life and maintain relationships.
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What are the ‘red flags’ of High Functioning Depression? How does it manifest?
You may not see it, but while depressive high functioning people are functioning, they are not fully functioning. There is still some level of impairment and distress but not as significant as someone who suffers from a major depression whose inability to function may be much more observable.
The symptoms are similar but are less severe: Loss of interest and drive, hopelessness, fatigue, problem sleeping, irritability, changes in weight and appetite, extreme emotions, low self-esteem, and, at the extreme, suicidal tendencies.
What are the effects of High Functioning Depression on a person’s daily life?
While high functioning depression may be milder, for people who have this condition, it can be a struggle to go through it because it is constant and persistent and affects their ability to enjoy life and relationships. Why?
- Because they feel down most of the time and people may see it as being cynical, and when they do feel happy, it usually doesn’t last long.
- Even after resting, they may still feel tired and don’t have the energy to do what they have to do, and when they’re able to do what they’re supposed to do, it may seem like a big task.
- They have such low self-esteem, they feel unworthy of happiness.
- They lose or gain weight unintentionally because they have little or too much appetite;
- They find it hard to focus on tasks or make decisions. Getting through the day is difficult.
- They tend to withdraw from social activities which can affect their relationships with others.
When does it become a problem?
You might think that because it is less severe, high functioning depression is easier to manage. But high functioning depression can become a bigger problem if it goes on for most days for a prolonged period of time (at least two years).
If untreated, it can eventually develop into a major form of depression. If it does, a person who used to suffer from high functioning depression may altogether lose most of his ability to function and it can be more difficult to pull him out of it.
If you think you know someone who has this condition, how can you help?
Because high functioning depression can hide in plain sight, it can be difficult for others to recognise a sufferer’s need for support, and therefore it can be difficult to offer.
How can you help a friend you think may have this condition?
- Listening is one of the best ways you can show support. Sometimes they do not seek a solution or answer, just a friendly and sympathetic ear can do wonders.
- Offer specific ways to help, not vague statements like “I’m here if you need me”. Offering to do certain chores, for instance, can help them in decision-making and ease feelings of being overwhelmed.
- Connect with them by doing fun activities together to help draw them out of their need to withdraw and isolate.
- Acknowledge their feelings and emphasise your presence. Acknowledge that they are feeling these things and let them know that you are there for them as long as they need you without judgement.
- Educate yourself about this condition so you can ask them the right questions and communicate with them better, know how to arm yourself with ways to help and not to take everything that he/she says or does as personal attacks against you.
- Learn how to connect with professional help especially if they are showing signs of self-harm. Sometimes no matter what we do, only professional help is needed for someone with this condition. Know who and when to call.
What is the best course to recovery from high functioning depression?
Sometimes the simplest of activities you can do at home can be the best antidotes for any depressive condition.
You can start a self-care routine which includes exercise, taking up a hobby or pleasurable activity, spending quality time with a friend, getting enough rest and physical activity, taking a break from devices, adopting a pet, eating healthy food and limiting alcohol intake, and joining community activities.
Manna Maniago (M.A. GradDipCouns BSci MACA) is a qualified psychotherapist and registered counsellor. Her mission is to help individuals lead a better and fulfilled life through advocacy for early intervention in mental health.