High-Functioning Depression: the Symptoms and Treatments

In psychology, mental health is described on a spectrum from depression to flourishing. Along that spectrum, there is a new term called high-functioning depression that is catching on.

Certain experts believe that the term comes from a lack of clarity surrounding persistent depressive disorder, which is an ongoing form of depression. Others see it as another way to characterize people who are not clinically depressed, but certainly not flourishing.

“When I think of people who fall into this category they are languishing or struggling in their lives, but not displaying or experiencing the persistent signs of clinical depression,” says Dr. David H. Rosmarin, associate professor at Harvard Medical School and founder of the Center for Anxiety in New York.

Rosmarin adds that “people with high-functioning depression tend to have the kind of personality where they push through with their emotions. They are sometimes viewed as perfectionists, which can lead them to hide their feelings. They may have trouble admitting they need help, which can lead to a build-up of emotion that can eventually spill over at a critical point.”

[Read: Mild, Moderate or Severe Depression: How to Tell Which One You Have.]

What Is High-Functioning Depression?

Depression is classified as mild, moderate and severe with severity evaluated across four dimensions. These dimensions include: frequency and duration of distress, intensity of the symptoms, number of symptoms and overall impairment. High-functioning depression is typically considered on the mild side across these dimensions, but it’s not a diagnosis or its own clinical disorder.

There are no estimates for the number of people living with high-functioning depression, but there are an estimated 21 million people aged 18 years or older who experience at least one major depressive episode each year, according to a 2020 report by the National Institute of Mental Health.

The American Psychiatric Association’s official diagnostic handbook does not recognize high-functioning depression as a clinical disorder. It’s also not a common term used among doctors to classify patients. “When speaking to my patients, I never describe them as a person with high-functioning depression; it’s just not a term we use around the office,” says Dr. Lorenzo Norris, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and chief wellness officer at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, D.C.

Norris believes the term high-functioning depression is catching on because it removes a bit of the stigma of being defined as depressed. “There’s still so much stigma around mental health issues, and this may be one way to make it more acceptable.”

[READ: Is My Depression Getting Worse?]

Signs of High-Functioning Depression

The most common symptoms of high-functioning depression may include:

— Changes in sleep patterns.

— Decreased productivity.

— Difficulty concentrating.

— Disinterest in socializing or activities.

— Feeling sad.

Irritability or anger.

— Lack of concentration and focus.

— Loss of appetite.

— Lower energy.

— Weight changes.

Because the signs are milder, recognizing the signs of high-functioning depression can be more difficult. Individuals may also be skilled at disguising or hiding their symptoms. “Generally, individuals are able to function at work and social environments,” Norris says. “These people are able to function quite well and even overachieve in some areas, and they themselves are probably not aware of their symptoms.”

The signs can sneak into someone’s life whether the person realizes it or not if they are dealing with issues at work or in their personal lives. It might be triggered by a stressful life event like getting fired, getting over a relationship or losing a loved one.

“Figuring out that someone may be living with high-functioning depression can be challenging, but the signs are usually milder forms of clinical depression without any thoughts of suicide,” Rosmarin explains.

[READ: Is Ketamine Effective in Treating Depression?]

Treatment of High-Functioning Depression

Those who feel they may be suffering from the effects of high-functioning depression should talk to their doctor or seek help from a mental health professional. While this is not a clinically diagnosed condition, health care professionals can still get you help — which may come in various forms, including:

Intervention. Having family members or friends to talk to about your feelings can make a big impact. Attending a support group in person or online and connecting with others who may feel the same way can help people feel like you’re not alone.

Medication. In some cases, treatment with anti-depressant medications may be necessary to manage the symptoms and help stabilize the person’s mood and improve emotions.

Psychotherapy. Getting help from a professional through talk therapy sessions can prevent feelings of depression from becoming more severe. This could mean a few sessions or regular visits, depending on what’s causing the depression. Finding a highly qualified mental health professional is a click away. The psychiatrist directory of U.S. News is a good place to start.

Stress reduction. Doing moderate exercise and practicing mindfulness based interventions like meditation may help improve depression symptoms, in conjunction with psychotherapy.

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High-Functioning Depression: the Symptoms and Treatments originally appeared on usnews.com

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