5 Signs of High-Functioning Depression

Asian man sitting at desk struggling with high-functioning depression

High-functioning depression (HFD) is common for people working in high-paced, demanding jobs. We usually hear a lot about depression, but high-functioning depression may look a little different and may impact people in different ways.

What is Depression?

Depression is more than just feeling down. Depression is characterised by excessive and persistent sadness, and can lead to a loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities. Depression often interferes with daily life, relationships and work, and affects 1 in 5 Australians (Australian Psychological Society, 2024; Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2018). 

What is High-Functioning Depression?

HFD is not a clinical diagnosis. Rather, it is a term that refers to those who may mask their symptoms of depression. Those experiencing it, although grappling with symptoms of depression, are generally able to continue functioning and accomplish their day to day tasks. Like depression, HFD may lead to overly negative self-talk, irritability and sleeping problems. This may result in coping mechanisms such as social withdrawal or reduced activity. Despite being able to function adequately, those struggling with HFD are fighting a private battle. They may be reluctant to seek help, or fail to recognise that they need support.

5 Signs of High- Functioning Depression 

HFD is often associated with persistent depressive disorder (PDD) which tends to be less severe than major depression, but is longer in duration. It is important to recognise the signs of HFD as it is estimated that at least 3 out of 4 people with HFD will experience at least one major depressive episode in their lifetime (Patel & Rose, 2023).

Below are some signs of HFD:

  1. Irritability – becoming easily irritable over seemingly ‘insignificant’ things such as small disruptions to your daily routine, minor inconveniences or loud noises. Those with HFD may find themselves snapping at coworkers, friends, or family members. 
  2. Significant Increase in sleep or insomnia – HFD may lead to sleeping excessively, wanting to stay in bed, or hitting the snooze button over and over.  Some people may experience the opposite problem, where they struggle to fall asleep. They may end up lying in bed staring at the ceiling, unable to drift off to sleep, their minds filled with negative or pessimistic thoughts.
  3. Low self esteem / high criticism – constant thoughts of failure and not good enough may occur whilst trying to stay on top of everything. Depression may act like a negative filter over the world, leading to an increase in negative or pessimistic thinking.
  4. Fatigue and feeling numb – despite getting enough sleep, those with HFD may feel exhausted and worn out throughout the day. They may start feeling emotionally numb, or unable to generate feelings of happiness or sadness towards things that usually provoke emotion.
  5. Excessive masking –  masking is a term used to describe when people cover their emotions and act in accordance with the expectations of others around them. We all mask our feelings from time to time based on the social context we are in. However, if you find that you regularly need to pretend that everything is alright in order to get through the day, this may be a sign of excessive masking.

6 Tips To Manage Feelings Of Depression

  1. Set realistic goals – a common challenge for those with HFD is that they attempt to take on too many things all at once. This may contribute to, rather than help to manage symptoms of depression. It may be more helpful to start off with small and realistic goals.
  2. Practice self care – self care can be anything that improves or maintains your wellbeing. From creative pursuits to enjoying time with family and friends, it’s important to spend time doing things that bring value to your life and remind you to enjoy it. 
  3. Healthy diet and exercise – the positive effects of a healthy diet and exercise are well-established. Research shows that incorporating physical exercise into your life stimulates the release of brain chemicals that are responsible for happiness! (Mayo Clinic, 2024). Eating good foods promotes the communication of happy hormones such as serotonin and dopamine from the gut to the brain through what is known as the gut-brain axis. 
  4. Practise mindfulness – Mindfulness may help us to change how we interact with negative thoughts. Practising mindfulness and focusing on the present moment may help to gain a sense of distance from negative thoughts or emotions, which may in turn reduce the impact they have. 
  5. Stay engaged withdrawing from activities is a common symptom of depression. Continuing to engage with activities and interact with others (even in smaller doses) may be beneficial. Remaining engaged with our hobbies has been shown to be a helpful component for managing depression (Bone et al., 2022).
  6. Talk – Whether it’s to a family member or trusted friend, talking about your experience may feel like a weight has lifted off your shoulders! You may find that the person you’re talking to is going through something similar,  reminding you that you’re not alone in your struggles. If you don’t feel comfortable opening up to someone you know personally, many people experience a sense of relief having a mental health professional to confide in.

High functioning depression can be a silent struggle, but it’s essential to recognise the signs and seek help when needed. Understanding the complexities of this condition, may help you to navigate your mental health journey with resilience and compassion. Remember, you’re not alone and support is available. Don’t hesitate to reach out and book an appointment.


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