What is “High-Functioning Depression?”

High-Functioning Depression

Despite a lessening of the stigma surrounding mental health, there exists a plethora of misconceptions. One misconception is that depression always presents as a debilitating disorder marked by suicidal thoughts and despair. On the contrary, even the most seemingly high-functioning individuals among us can suffer invisibly from depression. This form of depression—commonly referred to as high-functioning depression—is clinically known as persistent depressive disorder.  

Persistent depressive disorder is often characterized by chronic low-level symptoms of depression that last for two years or more and affects roughly 1.5% of adults in the U.S. each year. Individuals with persistent depressive disorder may find themselves able to function relatively well in day-to-day life (e.g., perform well at work, maintain healthy relationships, etc.) despite their milder symptoms of depression. It is important to note, however, that the ability to function relatively well does not diminish the severity of persistent depressive disorder or the impact it can have on one’s overall well-being.

Symptoms of High-Functioning Depression

Individuals with persistent depressive disorder may experience a range of depressive symptoms including:

  • Lasting sad mood
  • Low self-esteem
  • Hopelessness
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Fatigue
  • Hindered ability to concentrate
  • Low energy levels
  • Lack of interest in preferred activities

Since persistent depressive disorder is a chronic condition with generally milder symptoms, those with the condition may downplay their symptoms as a normative part of life and not something that warrants treatment. As a result, they may experience symptoms for many years before receiving a diagnosis, if any diagnosis occurs at all. If left untreated, persistent depressive disorder can negatively affect one’s ability to navigate everyday life. Chronic mild symptoms of depression, though seemingly tolerable, can lead to an overall lower quality of life and potentially escalate into major depression. Thus, it is crucial to seek treatment if one suspects they may have persistent depressive disorder.

Addressing High-Functioning Depression

    Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy is a variety of treatment techniques that aim to identify and change unhealthy emotions. One such variety, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), is an effective treatment for persistent depressive disorder that involves working with a mental health professional to identify and challenge harmful thought patterns while developing a greater understanding of oneself.
  • Exercise: Regular exercise has been shown to have significant benefits for mental health and overall well-being. Find a form of exercise you enjoy (yoga, zumba, walking, etc.) and incorporate it into your daily routine.
  • Mindfulness: Mindfulness, the practice of being fully present in the moment without judgment, can be a helpful approach to mental health and can improve emotional well-being.

Are you living with high-functioning depression or persistent depressive disorder? Which treatment approaches will you choose as you navigate your options? If you suspect you may be living with high-functioning depression, or you are concerned about how high-functioning depression may be affecting your life, our specially-trained therapists here at Pacific CBT are here to help. Contact us today to schedule a free, 15-minute video consultation.




About The Author

Christian Wertman currently works as a behavior therapist in the field of applied behavior analysis. Christian received his Bachelor’s degree in psychology from San Francisco State University and has aspirations for a career in clinical psychology.