What Is High-Functioning Depression?

by Nov 20, 2023

In today’s fast-paced world, it’s all too easy to assume that those who appear to have it all together are thriving. They may excel in their careers, maintain seemingly perfect relationships, and appear to effortlessly handle life’s challenges. But for people with high-functioning depression, a hidden battle lies behind the facade. Unlike its more overt counterparts, high-functioning depression doesn’t always present itself in an obvious low mood or lack of joy.

Those who struggle with high-functioning depression can maintain active social lives and even project an image of happiness while concealing the struggle that lies beneath the surface. With that in mind, let’s learn more about high-functioning depression.

What Is High-Functioning Depression?

While depression is a common mental health disorder that has many well-known signs and symptoms, like sadness, isolation, and changes in eating and sleeping habits, high-functioning depression isn’t as easy to detect.

While “high-functioning” depression isn’t an official term used in the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (it may be instead categorized as persistent depressive disorder (PDD)), many use the phrasing “high-functioning” colloquially. 

The Cause

There isn’t one specific or known cause for high-functioning depression, but there are several factors believed to influence it.

Brain Chemistry

Imbalances in certain brain chemicals, especially the ones that regulate mood, can lead to depression.


If depression runs in your family, you’re more at risk of developing depression yourself.

Life Events

Life is filled with ups and downs. Stressful or traumatic life events can lead to depression. These are just a few examples of negative life events that could trigger signs and symptoms of depression:

  • Abuse
  • Changing jobs
  • Financial issues
  • Being laid off
  • Loss of a loved one
  • Moving to a different city

Medical Conditions and Medication

Other health conditions like diabetes, cancer, chronic pain, or heart disease can lead to developing depression. Medication to help with existing medical problems can also produce side effects that fuel depression.


Your personality can also play a role in developing depression. Certain personality traits, such as perfectionism, may put you more at risk for developing depression.

The Signs and Symptoms

Someone with high-functioning depression may have all of the same internal signs and symptoms of depression, but other people may not be aware that depression is present at all. Someone with high-functioning depression can experience both emotional and physical signs and symptoms just like any other form of depression, but they may adept at masking it. These are some of the most common signs and symptoms of high-functioning depression:

  • Anxious
  • Changes in sleeping or eating habits
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Emptiness
  • Fatigue
  • Guilty
  • Hopelessness
  • Lack of concentration
  • Loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed
  • Sadness
  • Self-harm or suicidal ideation

Treatment Options

Even though someone with high-functioning anxiety may appear to be normal, happy, and healthy on the outside, this doesn’t mean that they’re feeling normal, happy, and healthy on the inside, nor does this mean that they wouldn’t benefit from treatment. The treatment for high-functioning depression is very similar to that of other types of depression.

Whether you outwardly show it or not, depression is not something you should feel like you have to deal with on your own. In fact, reaching out for help is one of the best and strongest things you can do.

Next Steps

Therapy is one of the best treatment options for high-functioning depression. Just because your depression may be labeled as high-functioning doesn’t mean you don’t deserve support. Working with a licensed and trained mental health professional can help you work through what you’re experiencing.

Remember, your depression doesn’t define you. Reach out to us today to set up an intake appointment. 

Click here for more information on depression therapy.