Most of us share the same mental image of someone living with depression. This person struggles to get out of bed and face the day, often calling in sick to work or canceling plans with their friends. They can’t stop crying, unable to control or manage their emotions. Isolating themselves from friends and family, they stay hidden in their home, often sleeping much of the day away.
Identified as the leading cause of disability among Americans aged 15 to 45, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that over 16 million adults in the United States are currently battling major depressive disorder. The problem is that the above stigma alienates a significant size portion of the population that suffers from depression each and every day, those that are able to continue on with their life as if they are ‘okay,’ while still experiencing the devastating and challenging effects of depression internally. This is known as ‘high-functioning depression.’
Carol Landau, a clinical professor of psychiatry and human behavior and medicine at Brown University, has dedicated a significant portion of her career to better understanding this form of depression, and how it differs from our previous understanding of this illness.
Landau discusses this common mindset, stating: “We’re still striving to be caregivers, and part of that is not admitting we need help. But it’s a huge problem. Depression is actually the leading cause of disability worldwide according to the World Health Organization, which takes into account things like days lost from work, not being up to doing daily activities, and other illnesses like diabetes. So, the minute someone opens up to their friend about it, they’ll find out that their friend will say, ‘Me too,’ or ‘My sister feels that way too,’ or ‘So does my mom,’ or, ‘So does our other best friend.”
If those suffering from this illness aren’t willing to open up to their friends and family, how can we identify if a friend or family member is suffering? Here are _ symptoms to watch out for:
- They view even the smallest annoyances as big, life changing situations.
- They consistently struggle with feelings of self-doubt regarding any choices they have made in their lives.
- They struggle with feelings of guilt and worry about both events that occurred in their past, as well as how they perceive their future.
- They have difficulty experiencing joy or happiness. This may mean that they no longer find joy and/or pleasure in activities that were once important to them.
- They rely heavily on coping mechanisms in their lives, such as substance abuse, or excessive behaviors, for example, constant gaming or seemingly addicted to television.
- They feel fatigued or burnt out, struggling to find energy from day to day.
- They generally feel sad throughout the day without having any definitive cause.
- They are relentlessly critical, especially of themselves.
- They are highly perfectionist in everything that they do.
- They experience excessive feelings of anger or irritability, reacting in ways that are disproportionate to the triggering event.
- They are unable to slow down or rest, feeling as though they must always be productive doing something.
While high-functioning depression differs from the depression that most of us know, it can still have an incredibly negative impact on our lives. Landau explained, “People often say being ‘high-functioning’ is better than being ‘low-functioning,’ but that’s not really true because the most important thing is for a depressed person to get help – which a high-functioning person is limiting herself from.” These individuals may be struggling right in front of us, without anyone realizing that this is happening.
If you believe that a friend or family member may be suffering from high-functioning depression, try to remind yourself that their ability to continue with daily schedule doesn’t mean that they aren’t still suffering. Remain supportive, allowing them to feel safe and secure should they feel comfortable enough to open up about their illness.