Skip to content

High Functioning Depression

High Functioning Depression Defined & What it Feels Like to Live with Depression?

What is High Functioning Depression?

If I were to ask you to picture and describe a depressed person, what would you envision?

Someone having trouble getting out of bed every day? Someone who can’t stop crying and who’s feeling hopeless? Or would you envision a popular, college-educated professional living it up in the big city with a great job?

According to The Mighty, high functioning depression doesn’t look like the stereotype of depression most of us hold in our heads, this diagnosis nevertheless carries significant risks if left untreated. [1]

But the uniquely tricky thing about high functioning depression is that it’s hard to spot precisely compared with severe clinical depression because the people dealing with it look, from the outside, like they’re holding it all together.

This can lead to a lack of ability to self-identify (or have those around you identify you) as depressed and, moreover, a possible resistance to seeking mental health treatment because of the stigma surrounding more “typical” depression. And this is a big problem.

High Functioning Depression
The signs and symptoms of high functioning depression are similar to those caused by major depression but are less severe.

High Functioning Depression Symptoms

1. Difficulty experiencing joy.

With high functioning depression, the things that used to bring you pleasure — whether this is a cherished yoga class or a monthly ritual of getting together with your girlfriends — these same things don’t bring you joy anymore. They may feel like burdens or events you want to avoid because it feels like more of an effort than support.

2. Relentless criticality — of self and others.

You may have a relentless and invasive internal narrative that’s critical of yourself, of others, and of the world in general. You think you’re a failure, you think your boss is an idiot, your partner’s the most irritating person to have ever lived, and life’s just one big slog. This chronically negative thought pattern may feel like something you just can’t turn off.

3. Constant self-doubt. 

You may constantly doubt whether or not you’re on the right career path, whether you’re in the right relationship, doubt what you’re doing with your life and if you can even handle being an adult. This pattern of constant self-doubt may be situational or pervasive but it’s something that feels like you just can’t get over.

High Functioning Depression
Most people function almost normally but struggle internally. Treatment is possible for high functioning depression through medications and therapy.

4. Diminished energy. 

If it feels like getting through each day is like walking up a mountain with a backpack of rocks, if you feel like you barely have the mental, emotional and physical energy to handle your life anymore, if your overall energy levels are greatly diminished, this could be a sign of high functioning depression.

5. Irritability or excessive anger.

 If you find yourself blowing up over small things — your partner says something wrong, your co-worker messed up a project, your kid just broke your favorite coffee mug, if you find yourself exploding in a way that feels disproportionate to the event, if irritability and excessive anger are something you’re wrestling with, this may be a sign.

6. Small things feel like huge things.

Similarly, if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or greatly stressed by an event that happens that maybe wouldn’t have felt like such a huge deal in the past (a friend cancels weekend plans, the grocery bags break when you’re carrying them in, your darn trackpad stops working because you spilled some coffee on it) and it feels like the End Of The World instead of the annoyance that it is — if you find your stress responses disproportionate to the event itself, this may well be a sign of high functioning depression.

7. Feelings of guilt and worry over the past and the future.

You worry that you chose the wrong career in college, you question whether you’re in the right grad school program, you worry about paying off all those student loans, you worry your biological clock is running out, you worry that you married the wrong partner, you worry about who’s going to care for your folks when they get older, etc. We all have these worries from time to time, but if feelings of guilt and worry over your past and future feel pervasive and dominant, this may be more than “normal” worry.

8. Relying on your coping strategies more and more.

If you find yourself needing extensive zone-out time after work and on the weekends, turning towards your coping mechanisms more often than not — such as substances or behaviors like using alcohol, substance abuse or using drugs, excessive gaming, constant Netflix, etc. — all in an effort to escape your life, this could speak to underlying depression.

9. Generalized sadness.

If you find yourself feeling a generalized sense of sadness you can’t seem to pinpoint the cause of, if you drop your mask and armors of smiling competency when you close your door behind you, if you feel a subtle sense of hopelessness, this could speak to high functioning depression.

10. Seeking perfection.

This one’s a tough one. In a way our society condones perfectionism — getting good grades, getting into the Ivies, landing that amazing tech job, striving, striving, striving. But perfectionism has a shadow side where striving turns into unrealistic demands of yourself and psychologically beating yourself up when you fall short of the bar you set for yourself. If you find yourself doing this and it’s causing you distress, be curious about whether this is a sign of high functioning depression.

High Functioning Depression
High functioning depression is a real thing, and it can have serious consequences if not addressed and treated.

11. Inability to rest and slow down. 

If you need to clean up, tidy, and organize the house after you arrive home from an exhausting day of work before you even consider letting yourself rest, if you find yourself uncomfortable with slowness, stillness, and fallow periods of time because of the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings you come into contact with when you do actually slow down, this could be a sign of high functioning depression.

High Functioning Depression Causes

Like all forms of depression, functional depression can stem from several different causes. It may be a combination of genetic, biological, or life experiences that lead to functional depression.

Stress, illness, unresolved grief, substance abuse issues, trauma, relationship issues, and major life transitions are just a few reasons someone might grow depressed.

There are several reasons why someone may develop functional depression. An individual with functional depression can often have mild enough symptoms that they’re able to continue functioning. Or they could be a perfectionist who is afraid to show that they’re struggling. [2]

How to Manage High-Functioning Depression

High Functioning Depression
This type of depression can be difficult to detect in oneself, but especially in others. Contact us to get help.

How to help someone if you think they are hiding depression 

It can be hard to know how to help someone who seems to be dealing with depression. Here are some options to consider:

  • You can ask questions that show you care and open an opportunity to talk.
  • Listen without judging or giving too much advice.
  • Avoid clichés and cheery pep talks, which might not be helpful.
  • Offer to take walks together.
  • Make arrangements for low-pressure social activities, considering the other person’s interests.

Hidden depression is treatable. When people get help, symptoms often get better, although it can take some time for the effects to be noticeable. The most common and effective depression treatments are medications, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two.

In cases where therapy and medication haven’t fully relieved severe symptoms, brain-stimulating treatments may be an additional option.

It’s also possible to improve some depression symptoms with exercise, improvements to sleep, and a diet that limits sugary, processed foods (such as the Mediterranean diet).

Being cautious about disclosing a health condition is a matter of personal judgment and choice. Not every family member, friend, or workplace is safe and supportive, so protecting private health information can be a wise decision for some people depending on their situation. [3]

Untreated depression increases the risk of suicide. Researchers at the National Institutes of Mental Health point out that untreated depression can also raise your risk of developing illnesses, including:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Osteoporosis
  • Alzheimer’s disease

Many people find that psychotherapy and changes to their diet, exercise, thinking patterns, and sleep habits are effective treatments, especially if symptoms are mild or moderate.

High Functioning Depression Treatment

While there is no single reason why someone develops high functioning depression and while there is not necessarily a way to prevent it, there are several evidence-based effective treatment modalities to help you manage and support yourself if you deal with it: Psychotherapy and/or medication. [4]

It’s important to recognize the symptoms of depression and get treatment so things don’t get worse. Untreated depression can lead to other health problems over time.

If you or someone you know is working hard to camouflage high functioning depression symptoms, know that good help is available. With treatment, depression can be managed, and a better quality of life can be restored.

Call today to speak with one of our treatment specialists.

Your call is private and confidential, and there is never any obligation.


[1] What Are the Signs of ‘High-Functioning’ Depression and Could You Have It? –

[2] Is It Possible to Have Functional Depression? –

[3] Please Stop Thinking My High-Functioning Depression Makes Me Lazy –

[4] We Level Up – Treatment » Mental Health Program