Depression has many faces; it impacts everyone differently. Someone may experience persistent sadness and struggle to get out of bed, whereas someone else may continue to work without anyone noticing that they’re suffering inside. Indeed, even someone with high functioning depression shows that not everyone experiencing a mental illness is apparent to the outside world. This article aims to discuss this nonmedical term, its symptoms, ways to cope, and the shame this phrase often creates, unintentionally.
What is ‘High Functioning Depression’?
High functioning depression is not a diagnosis, nor a clinical disorder recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-5). It’s a nonmedical term used to describe someone who experiences milder symptoms of a depressive disorder but functions well in their daily life.
However, it’s important to note that depression affects everyone differently, and even someone who is “functioning well” can also experience major depressive disorder. Indeed, someone may hide depression with a façade that everything is okay, when they’re actually suffering silently behind the scenes.
As a result, this phrase causes mixed feelings among experts. Rebecca Brendel, president-elect of the American Psychiatric Association states, “Saying that somebody is high-functioning even though they have a mental illness in and of itself raises the stigma associated with mental illness.” It exacerbates shame by indicating depression is a one-size-fits-all disorder.
Furthermore, high functioning depression often gets confused with persistent depressive disorder, which involves less severe symptoms than major depressive disorder but has a longer duration.
16 Signs of High Functioning Depression
Since high functioning depression is not a clinical disorder, there are no clinical symptoms. However, if you’re worried about depression within yourself or a loved one, there are a few common signs of depression to keep an eye out for;
- Low self-esteem
- Insomnia or oversleeping
- Decreased productivity
- Irritability or frequent anger
- Body aches
- Poor concentration
- Regretful of the past
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Persistent sadness
- Changes in appetite
- Difficulty making decisions
- Feeling low energy despite restful sleep
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- Less interested in activities that used to bring joy
7 High Functioning Depression Coping Tips
1. Normalize how you feel
The first step in managing depression is acknowledging that it’s okay to experience it. You may think you have high functioning depression, but depression is a spectrum. It’s not black and white as saying someone is either sad lying-in bed all day, or they’re high functioning with low self-worth. Instead, it impacts everyone differently, and understanding how it affects you is critical to receiving the help you need. However, it can be difficult to spot signs in yourself, especially if you’re trying to conceal your depression to appear strong. Therefore, normalizing what you’re experiencing will help you feel safer and better about seeking coping mechanisms, including receiving support or help.
2. Set specific goals
While goal setting wile feeling depressed may seem like an impossible battle, setting specific baby goals can build your self-esteem and sense of accomplishment. For example, instead of trying to exercise every day, set a goal of 2-3 days a week to start. And with every win you experience (working out, eating a piece of fruit instead of a sugary treat, etc.), be proud of your progress. Every move forward counts.
3. Establish a consistent sleep/wake routine
Insomnia or oversleeping are two common signs of depression. So, establishing a consistent sleep/wake routine may feel too challenging at this moment. But while combining tip #2, set a small goal of falling asleep at 9 pm, for example, and waking up at 8 am. To help prepare your mind for rest, try winding down by practicing meditation, a 20-minute yoga workout, journaling your thoughts, or reading a favorite book. Any method to help you calm your racing thoughts before bedtime will help you achieve more restful sleep.
4. Practice self-forgiveness
Are you upset about an incident that happened in the past that you can’t stop thinking about? Or how unhappy you are with your job or relationship? When we’re upset about a situation, we tend to self-criticize and turn up the self-hate volume in our minds. This self-criticism causes us to feel guilty for speaking poorly about ourselves, which feeds more self-criticism. To interrupt this cycle, try practicing self-forgiveness. For example, you could say, “I forgive myself for judging myself for…. (Insert reason)”. Repeating this intention will help you forgive yourself for things that may be out of your control.
5. Shift your internal dialogue
Depression is both a mental and physical disorder; you may feel tired, and achy, including experiencing feelings of low worth. Therefore, learning how to beat negative thoughts will impact your mood and make you feel better overall. One way to shift your thinking is to know your triggers. Is there something at work that’s causing you to withdraw, become sadder, or more tired? Or is there a family member who makes you feel worse every time they call? When you know your triggers, you will be more prepared to tackle your thoughts and choose coping mechanisms to help you overcome them…
6. Engage in coping mechanisms
When you’re depressed, it’s common to not feel happy or excited about doing things that once brought you joy. As a result, it becomes more challenging to want to do anything you know will make you feel better. Instead of feeling guilty for your lack of interest, watch a silly movie, look up self-empowering quotes, or watch a ted talk from an inspiring thought leader. Choose any coping method that will feel easier to practice than trying to go for a run or spend time on a passion project when you’re not up for it.
7. Connect to support
One of the most important things you can do to help manage your depression is to develop emotional support. You can do this by either reaching out to loved ones, or by finding an online support group. Knowing you can count on a stable support system will make you feel less alone – especially when you’re experiencing a particularly bad day.
Whether you’re feeling persistently sad, or you believe you have high functioning depression, remember that depression is a spectrum – not everyone experiences it the same. Additionally, it’s okay to have bad days and experience depression. But the most important tip to remember is reaching out for support and seeking help from a mental health professional to discuss your symptoms are encouraged and are signs of strength. Normalizing mental health and conservations about depression are key to lifting stigma and increasing awareness.
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