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Is High-Functioning Depression Holding You Back?

high-functioning depression can be debilitating

Is High-Functioning Depression Holding You Back?

high-functioning depression can be debilitatingAt our last staff meeting, our team discussed a topic that doesn’t get enough attention: high-functioning depression. The impetus for our discussion was this great article by psychotherapist Annie Wright, What Are the Signs of ‘High-Functioning’ Depression and Could You Have It? We have seen in our work with clients the ways in it can keep them from even taking the first step in getting organized because they have so high of expectations of themselves that they can never make it perfect enough.

We learned that not only is it difficult for others to recognize someone with it but that it’s often difficult for the person themselves to recognize that they have it. We’ve all learned to recognize “typical” depression symptoms, but high-functioning depression is different.


The different between depression and high-functioning depression is that people with high-functioning form of depression still get up, go to work, have relationships and go about their lives. The depression is masked by the activity of living, but inside, the person is struggling. Wright identified these 11 ways it manifests itself:

  • Difficulty experiencing joy
  • Relentless criticality — of self and others
  • Constant self-doubt
  • Diminished energy
  • Irritability or excessive anger
  • Small things feel like huge things
  • Feelings of guilt and worry over the past and the future
  • Relying on your coping strategies more and more
  • Generalized sadness
  • Seeking perfection
  • Inability to rest and slow down

The Risk of Untreated High-Functioning Depression

As Wright explains,

“These folks may not be willing to see themselves as depressed. And this can be a big problem. Because, in my clinical opinion, there’s a unique set of risks to being someone with high-functioning depression.”

If you don’t recognize that you’re depressed, you won’t be as likely to seek therapy. You may not even realize anything is wrong but spend time developing unhealthy coping mechanisms like overeating or substance abuse. But it’s not something you can just power your way through.

“If left untreated, high-functioning depression, or dysthymia, can potentially bloom into major depression or major depressive episodes where your biological and psychological functioning is more severely impaired.”

Treatment Options

Psychotherapy can help. In fact, according to research, therapy can be as effective as drugs. If you feel like you might be suffering from this form of depression, love yourself enough to admit it and seek help. You deserve to feel join and release yourself from the pressure of trying to be perfect all the time. If you know someone who has or seems to have high-functioning depression, we encourage you to share Annie’s article with them. Everyone deserves to have joy.

Cris Sgrott

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