High Functioning Depression (functional depression) is a term that gets thrown around a lot to describe a person that sometimes struggles with depression but seems to manage just fine most of the time.
Popular culture often lumps the mental health condition of depression into one category – a person is either depressed or they are not.
However, there is actually a spectrum ranging from mild to major where it concerns the disorder, and some forms are related to the timing of specific events.
Though high functioning depression is not considered an actual clinical diagnosis, it is still nonetheless often discussed.
What is High Functioning Depression?
High Functioning Depression is sometimes referred to as Functional Depression or simply Functioning Depression.
When considering this type of mental health condition, it’s important first and foremost to understand that depression is incredibly common and there is no shame in struggling with the often-debilitating symptoms.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, some 21 million adults in the United States cope with a major depressive disorder in a given year. And that number is very likely underreported for various reasons.
High functioning depression is often used to describe a type of depression that is less severe than major depressive disorder (MDD), and more closely related to a diagnosis of persistent depressive disorder (PDD), sometimes referred to as dysthymia.
Persistent depressive disorder is characterized by bouts of depression combined with periods of normal mood function. This is what most people think of when they talk about functional depression.
This form of depression is considered less severe than other forms of depression in that it allows people to function at a relatively high level.
Still, the symptoms of PDD or high functioning depression can have a serious impact on a person’s ability to cope with work, school, personal relationships, and other necessary elements of overall health and wellbeing.
Having a general understanding of the different kinds of depression can help people recognize the warning signs and seek help as early as possible.
Related: 12 Movies About Depression
Different Forms of Depression
The clinically diagnosed forms of depression are usually categorized according to their symptoms.
Though the root cause of depression is not totally understood, experts do know that it’s brought on by several different factors, including genetics, a family history mental illness, trauma, drug and alcohol abuse, and other environmental factors.
The Main Forms of Depression Include the Following:
Major Depressive Disorder
Major Depressive Disorder is characterized by intense and overwhelming physical and emotional symptoms that can severely interrupt a person’s daily life, and that last for a period of longer than two weeks.
For people with Bipolar Disorder, periods of extremely high, manic energy are mixed with extreme lows characterized by feelings of hopelessness and physical exhaustion known as Bipolar Depression.
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder
For some women, Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder is a mental health condition that can cause serious symptoms of depression in the days or weeks leading up to menstruation each month. This is a severe form of Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS).
Perinatal and Postpartum Depression
Perinatal and Postpartum Depression is a form of depression that may occur during or after pregnancy, and can last for up to a year after giving birth.
The associated symptoms can be debilitating, going beyond just feeling “blue,” and having a serious impact on a woman’s ability to function normally.
Persistent Depressive Disorder
Persistent Depressive Disorder is also referred to as Dysthymia, and is sometimes thought of as high functioning depression, though this type of depression is less severe than major depression. While there are periods of feeling “normal,” the depressive symptoms can last for as long as two years.
Psychotic Depression is a severe depression diagnosis that is characterized by patients with depressive symptoms who are also experiencing delusions and hallucinations.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as Major Depressive Disorder With Seasonal Pattern, is a category of depression, which some people might also relate to high functioning depression. The less severe and sometimes fleeting symptoms, are brought on by the scarcity of sunlight in late fall and early winter.
People with this disorder generally feel much better in the spring and summer when the days are longer and they are exposed to more sunlight.
High Functioning Depression Symptoms
Because high functioning depression is not a clinical diagnosis, there are not any medically recognized symptoms.
However, because of its association with persistent depressive disorder, people are likely to be experiencing symptoms similar to that form of depression.
High Functioning Depression Symptoms Include Some of the Following:
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and hopelessness
- Problems concentrating or making decisions
- Poor self-image or low self-esteem
- Changes in appetite, such as overeating or not eating much at all
- Sleep problems that include not sleeping (insomnia) or sleeping too much
- Low physical energy and fatigue
- Self-medicating with drugs or alcohol to cope with functional depression symptoms
Rather than getting caught up in the differences or similarities between persistent depressive disorder and high functioning depression, anyone struggling with depressive symptoms should seek professional help and treatment.
There’s no reason for anyone to allow his or her symptoms of depression to worsen or have a negative impact on daily living.
High Functioning Depression Treatment
With mood disorders, where symptoms of depression can last for years, it’s important to understand that treatment can take time, but that there is truly hope of feeling better and living a happier, healthier, and more productive life.
Antidepressants and psychotherapy together are considered a combined therapy approach, and are generally thought to be an effective functional depression treatment method, although there are other ways that can help as well.
Some of the Most Common Approaches for Dysthymia or High Functioning Depression Treatment Include:
1. Antidepressant Medications
Antidepressant medications can help alleviate many symptoms caused by depression. There is not a one-size-fits all medication for everyone and it may take several tries to find the right medication for an individual.
It’s easy during this process to get discouraged, but those who remain focused on recovery benefit greatly from finally identifying the best medication for their circumstances.
2. Psychotherapy Approaches
Psychotherapy approaches such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Dialectical Behavior Therapy can help people with depression identify and change negative thought patterns, sometimes in just a few sessions.
Individual and even group counseling is also valuable for managing and healing from many of the causes of depression.
3. Regular Exercise
Regular exercise is an extremely powerful tool for reducing the symptoms of depression by working off excess stress and anxiety.
Exercise also helps increase chemicals in the brain associated with a positive mood and good feelings. For this reason, exercise is considered one of the most underrated forms of dealing with depression and other types of mental health conditions.
4. Eating the Right Foods
It’s necessary to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet of fresh vegetables, fruits, and lean proteins. Overly sugary, salty, or processed foods are known to cause chemical spikes and crashes in the body that can affect mood in a negative way.
5. Natural Sunlight
Natural Sunlight is often a great way for people to overcome Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms because sunlight helps to produce serotonin and lift the mood.
This is especially important during the winter months, or for people who work the night shift and sleep during the day. A little extra sunshine each day can do wonders for overcoming functioning depression.
6. Avoid Alcohol and Drugs
It’s common for people to turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with depression, and in some cases it can be effective for a short time. But it’s always best to avoid alcohol and drugs because they have proven to make the symptoms of depression worse if continued, and a person could become dependent or addicted to them. Alcohol and some drugs are also known depressants.
Developing an addiction to drugs or alcohol combined with a mental health condition like depression will only complicate matters and require a more intense dual diagnosis treatment program to recover from both conditions.
Hopefully these treatment methods will work well for those struggling with high functioning depression symptoms. It’s important to be patient and keep an open mind when trying new methods.
It can take time for depression to respond to treatment, especially if the symptoms have been present for years. But recovery from functional depression is easily within reach for many individuals and the results will be extremely rewarding.