I never felt like I deserved to have depression, as if it was a luxury I had not earned with misfortune. I was going through all the paces, more than that I was overachieving. I was scoring well in my classes, organising prom and various events, going to parties and keeping up my social agenda. That’s what everyone saw, complete with a big smile and a body I kept small by overexercising. But behind that mask? There were nights just spent crying; there were symbols of my pain scattered across my body; there was the wish for it all to finally be over. Years later, I would be able to recognise that I suffer from high functioning depression. I would understand that just because I manage to leave my bed and hide my pain, it doesn’t minimise my struggle.
I have high functioning depression, among other things, and maybe you or someone you know does as well. How would you spot it? What will you look for?
First, let’s consider the symptoms of depression as a disorder. This is what a psychologist or trained health professional would look for when talking to the individual, and would allow them to diagnose depression. As we know, depression can have many different forms, including high functioning depression, but these would be the basis:
Individuals must also meet the following criteria for all of the above symptoms, as otherwise, a diagnosis of depression is not possible:
But wait… does that mean someone can’t be treated for their depression until they’ve been struggling for two years? What about post-partum depression or after the death of a loved one? No, it merely means that Persistent Depressive Disorder or Major Depressive Disorder cannot be diagnosed correctly until two years of symptoms. This is to rule out situational factors or see if it passes. You can still be depressed and deserve treatment and recognition for that, but it doesn’t yet apply as a depressive disorder.
This includes the symptoms mentioned but in the specific manners in which they present with High Functioning Depression. It will be far too easy to miss the hints in this individual as they are devoting all of their energy into hiding it and masking their symptoms. But the truth lies in the physical evidence that is harder to hide. It lies in the cracks between their facade. This is how you spot high functioning depression:
There is no definite answer. And it can be so relative. I have people who appear incredibly shocked when they hear about the severe depression that stole seven years from me - “but you seemed so fine!”. I also have friends who said they could see something was wrong, that I seem far more myself now. Which is great in retrospect, but at the time I really needed someone to notice. And so, my advice is this:
If in doubt. Ask. Open that line of communication with them, one where you can discuss difficult and highly personal topics. Even if they brush it now, they will come back when they’re ready as they’ll know you’re waiting. Even if they’re completely fine and you misread all signs, they’ll be flattered that you care and know that they have support when needed. Because one day they will need to talk, and you’ll be there. Even if they exhibit these symptoms without depression, they have something going on that is worth opening up about.
There is never harm in asking, only in being too embarrassed to talk about mental health.
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
Would you like to receive my top monthly articles right to your inbox?
For any comments/questions/enquiries, please get in touch at:
I'd love to hear from you!