When I started this blog article last year, I was already starting to deal with high-functioning depression. Like many people, the last year has been rough. Even though I was one of the lucky ones who did not lose work or suffer financially, it was still rough. In my case, I think that lockdown amplified my underlying depression. Lockdown made it easier to not go out. It made it easier to eat badly and gradually stop investing in my self care.
It took me a very long time to recognise the signs that the depression was slowly returning. I did not want to admit even to myself that it had been lurking, long before lockdown. The reason for this is that my depression was easy to mask and it was not taking over my life completely. High-functioning depression often doesn’t feel like depression. It’s easy to fool ourselves into believing that we are fine and just having a difficult time. The trouble with this is that ignoring or avoiding the signs ends up putting us at very real risk of burnout.
The Risks of High-Functioning Depression
What is high-functioning depression, though? Is it a bigger mental health risk than crippling depression? Is there even a difference when it comes to depression? Depression is depression, after all. Although clinical depression, depressive disorder and situational depression are all forms that depression takes, they are all depression. High-functioning depression is a little different. According to Psycom, this type of depression “may be harder to detect than major depressive disorder (MDD) because the people living with it are often high achievers who make you think everything is all right all the time.”
There are a few problems that arise from this type of depression, including the following.
It is not easy to see.
This applies to ourselves from the inside and others from the outside. In my case, I went about life, believing that I was totally fine. I did the same things I always did, going about life as usual. Underneath that, I was not fine. I did not have the same signs I had from my previous depression. On the surface, I was calm and happy, functioning and not letting others know how I was really doing.
It is hard to treat.
After many years of being depression and med-free, I have finally realised that I need to go back onto antidepressants again for the sake of my health. That decision took months; possibly as long as a year. When you are able to function, even when things start to feel overwhelming, you will not think that you need any help. I have an amazing support system and all the self care skills I need. Even then, it took me ages to accept that functioning with depression was not the same as truly coping. By ignoring the signs and continuing life as though nothing had changed, I failed to see that I needed more help. By pushing through and putting more pressure onto myself, I added more stress, and things slowly began to get harder.
It is bad for overall well-being.
When you are aware that you are depressed, and you take action to get help, you have a better chance of improving your health. Obviously, major depression is extremely dangerous from a health perspective. Every type of depression comes with physical, mental and emotional health complications. In the case of high-functioning depression, those complications will often go unnoticed. You may add more stress to your life, taking on more work, pushing yourself, falling into negative self-talk patterns, and believing that you are failing at life. You might be like me – skipping meals and eating chocolate or junk for lunch. You may slowly begin to stop moving. You may make choices that impact your well-being in other ways, without being aware. At some stage, there is a tipping point. We can only put ourselves through so much before something gives.
Recognising High-Functioning Depression
If you have been feeling that something is not right, despite going through life as normal, you may be dealing with high-functioning depression. There are a few signs to look out for, including:
- Changes in sleep patterns – oversleeping or not sleeping
- Difficulty in concentrating and making decisions
- A sense of overwhelm when trying to juggle everything in your life
- Battling to focus on get through tasks or being slower at tasks than usual
- Major fatigue that affects you mentally and physically
- Low self-esteem and feelings or guilt or worthlessness
- Increased alcohol or junk food intake (yes, even chocolate)
- Fluctuations in mood, from ‘normal’ to overwhelmed
- Avoiding social interactions and not feeling up to dealing with people
It is essential to note that every type of depression or mental health disorder requires a diagnosis from a psychologist, psychiatrist or medical doctor. You may notice a lot of these symptoms but self-diagnosis can make things much worse. Self-medication is extremely dangerous. If you have experienced two or more of these symptoms, speak to a professional as soon as possible.
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The good news is that recognising and understanding this type of depression can help you learn how to cope with depression. It does not have to take over your life. Medication is just part of self care. Using treatment prescribed by your healthcare professional as well as having a self care toolbox will help you cope, one day at a time. Rather than seeing high-functioning depression as a sign you are not doing well in life, see it as a sign that you are human and dealing as best you can.