DepressionJust because someone can hide their depression doesn't mean it isn't serious.

Depression is an incredibly common mental illness. It’s estimated that somewhere between 14 million and 19 million American adults have experienced at least one depressive episode in their life, if not more. You’ve probably known multiple people in your life who have had depression, and may have experienced it yourself. However, you may not be able to call many of those people to mind, and you may have realized yourself that the people around you didn’t seem to notice when you were struggling with depression. Why is that?


It may be due to something called high-functioning depression. Essentially, this is depression that hides itself very well in public or in front of loved ones– people who have it are capable of hiding their sadness, numbed emotions, and low energy very well and can disguise the fact that they’re struggling. However, high-functioning depression is no less debilitating than any other kind and requires just as much treatment and awareness. Here’s what you need to know!

Is High-Functioning Depression a Medical Term?

Technically speaking, high-functioning depression is not a term that is used in an official medical capacity. It doesn’t exist in the DSM-5, the current standard for mental health diagnosis, and if it did, it probably wouldn’t be separated categorically from garden-variety depression.


Essentially, high-functioning depression is a lay term. It’s used in a more casual, social sense to describe depression that is difficult to outwardly notice, or depression that a person can fight enough to maintain their normal standard of behavior. Depression can sometimes be completely debilitating for a person, making it impossible for them to get out of bed, go to work or school as normal, or have normal, positive interactions with their friends and loved ones. However, some people can do these things while they are depressed. This doesn’t mean it’s easy, or that they’re any less depressed than the people who lose their ability to function. It’s just different ways that the disorder presents itself in different people!

How is High-Functioning Depression Different from Regular Depression?

In a lot of ways, high-functioning depression is extremely similar to any other kind of depression. People who have it feel sad without much reason to, or experience feelings of emptiness, numbness, or lack of emotion. They struggle with motivation and feeling that there’s no point to their life, and they have low energy and find it challenging to do normal, daily tasks and activities. They frequently have low self-worth or self-image, feelings of anxiety or guilt, hopelessness, or irritability. They may struggle with their weight and their sleeping habits, and in extreme cases they may have thoughts of self-harm or suicide.


The main difference between high-functioning depression and any other depression is that it’s possible for the person to continue with their daily routine as normal, and often to seem as if they feel perfectly fine and happy in front of other people. If left alone, they may deflate and put aside the facade, but when others are watching, they work hard to seem as if nothing is wrong. Symptoms like slow movement or speech and weight loss or gain that an outsider might notice are less prominent with this kind of depression, and it might be entirely possible to miss that a person is struggling unless they tell you directly.

Why Do People Hide Their Depression?

All this begs the question: why do people hide their depression at all? Unfortunately, it’s a complicated answer, as people have complex reasons for attempting to hide the fact that they’re depressed. For some people, it’s a social, cultural, or familial thing. Depression or mental health issues are never something that is discussed in their circles and might even be viewed as shameful or unacceptable, so to spare themselves the embarrassment, they try to continue with business as usual.


Other people might feel as though their depression isn’t serious enough or real enough to warrant care, treatment, and attention. They may think that they “aren’t really depressed” and that they must be making it up for attention, even though the symptoms and emotions that they’re feeling are completely real.


Other people worry about severe effects they may incur if their performance at work or school starts to suffer, or they may worry that they’ll lose friends or damage themselves socially if they appear to be outwardly struggling. Additionally, some people may be convinced that they’ll do better without help, or they don’t want to burden the people they care about, and so they’ll try to keep their unhappiness a secret.


With reasons like this, it’s hard to blame someone for not wanting the fact that they’re struggling with depression to be common knowledge! However, if you’re currently in this position, remember that depression is not only common, but highly manageable and treatable. By seeking out help from both mental health professionals and people you love, there is hope for you to start feeling better. Fighting the urge to hide this part of yourself can feel impossible, but help is out there for you, and you deserve that help!

How is High-Functioning Depression Treated?

High-functioning depression is treated in much the same way that other types of depression are: with therapy, medication, and external support from friends, family, and loved ones. Pursuing these options for treatment can make a huge difference in the life of someone with high-functioning depression, and can take them from going through the motions to really living again!


If you’ve tried treatments like this before without much success, TMS, or transcranial magnetic stimulation, might be a good option for you. You can learn more about it here!