High Functioning Depression Symptoms: How To Know If You Are Struggling With Depression

Depression is a serious mental illness, and one of the more common mental health diagnoses in the United States. But high functioning depression is a little different and may not look the same as classical depression. 

Even if you’re familiar with major depressive disorder and the most common signs and causes of depression, you might not recognize high functioning depression, even when it’s happening to you. 

It’s important to note that high-functioning depression is a description, but not an actual diagnosis. People with high-functioning depression have depression, not some rare variant of the disorder. However, the description is used because for some people with depression, the disorder doesn’t impact their function the way it would on others. 

Unfortunately, people dealing with high-functioning depression may be less likely to seek help, or even realize they need it, and the people around them might also be less likely to check in on them or offer support. 

Whether you’re here because you’re worried that you have high-functioning depression, or that a friend or a family member has high-functioning depression, welcome. 

We’re going to go over some of the symptoms of high-functioning depression, why hiding depression this way is dangerous, how it can lead to other mental health problems including drug and alcohol addiction, and some management techniques that can make high-functioning depression much easier to live with. 

High Functioning Depression Symptoms

High-functioning depression shares its symptoms with other forms of depression, and the symptoms can be just as severe, even though they aren’t causing the same disruption to the person’s life as other forms of depression. 

That may mean that some symptoms look a little different, even though they fear just as severe as they would to someone with the same condition. 

For instance, someone with high-functioning depression might still struggle to get out of bed in the morning, but they’ll be able to get up and get ready quickly enough to still get to work or school on time. Someone with high functioning depression may even have coping methods to make it easier to get ready, like putting out their clothing the night before or having easy-to-do hairstyles that don’t take much time or energy to maintain. 

The ability of someone with high-functioning depression to deal with their depression and maintain their productivity has no impact on the severity of their symptoms, or how depressed they feel. However, since many people pay attention to outward signs to help them identify their emotions, they might not realize that what they are feeling is depression. 

Here are some of the common symptoms of depression: 

  • Persistently feeling empty or numb
  • Persistent feelings of sadness
  • Feeling like life doesn’t have value
  • Feeling personally worthless
  • Consistent low energy
  • Little interest in the activities or hobbies you once found enjoyable
  • Feeling like you need to go through life on auto-pilot
  • Feeling like your value is directly connected to your productivity
  • Changes in appetite 
  • Unexpected weight change
  • Hair loss
  • Difficulty remembering things
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Consistent feelings of guilt, especially guilt with no particular cause
  • Feeling slowed down
  • Thinking about, planning, or self-harming
  • Thinking about, planning, or attempting suicide
  • Aches and pains, stomach problems, or other health complaints without clear cause that don’t resolve with treatment. 

These are just some of the most common or clinically significant symptoms of depression. You may have other symptoms or additional symptoms that aren’t listed here. 

Remember, in the case of high-functioning depression, these symptoms might not interfere with your job and may have less impact on your personal life. However, they can make you feel less interested in your work and personal life, or question whether your effort is worth it. 

Even without significant behavioral changes, these serious symptoms warrant close attention. If these symptoms sound familiar, you should talk with your doctor about your concerns and see if any treatment options are available. 

Dangers Of Hiding High Functioning Depression Symptoms To Yourself

Many people think of mental health in the context of how it influences their productivity or what it does to their personal lives, especially if they’ve had a friend or family member that has dealt with depression or another mental illness before. 

However, those are only some of the most obvious outward signs of depression, and they aren’t the most dangerous part of having depression. 

Hiding depression from yourself and others can make your symptoms significantly harder to manage. Symptoms may seem more overwhelming if you don’t know what’s causing them, and you may even shame yourself or develop negative self-talk if you think that what you’re experiencing is normal, or that you should be feeling/doing better. 

People with high-functioning depression are often less likely to get help from professionals or by reaching out to friends and family and asking for additional support when needed. 

Because support is critical for managing and making it through depression, that can mean that people with high functioning depression are at higher risk of serious problems like self-harm and suicide, not because they are weaker than others, but because they don’t have access to the treatment and tools they need. 

Admitting you have high-functioning depression can be hard. It can feel like you’re weak or admitting that you aren’t as good as others think. Remember that those things aren’t true. 

People with high-functioning depression are just like anyone else. And they have been dealing with a heavy burden by themselves, which means that people with high functioning depression are likely to be incredibly strong. 

It’s okay to be struggling. But you shouldn’t have to pretend that you aren’t struggling and shouldn’t have to struggle alone. 

Can Your High Functioning Depression Symptoms Lead To A Drug/Alcohol Addiction?


One of the big risks of depression and all mental illnesses is that they can lead to an elevated risk of drug and alcohol addiction. 

Unfortunately, substance use disorders can also make mental health disorders significantly worse, which leads to a feedback loop where the depression gets worse over time, and you use an addiction to manage the symptoms, which worsens the depression, which means you engage in more addictive behaviors like increasing your dose or drinking and taking drugs more often, which worsens depression and… 

These vicious cycles make addiction more likely and mean that you’re more likely to deal with severe side effects from the addiction. 

Unfortunately, the same traits and skills that make you high functioning despite your depression may also make you high functioning with an addiction. Like depression, high-functioning might make it harder to realize you have an addiction and make it less likely for the people around you to recognize it. 

That can be dangerous because untreated addiction introduces its own problems. Plus, risk-taking behaviors are more likely when dealing with an addiction. 

How To Manage Your High Functioning Depression Symptoms

There are many ways to manage high-functioning depression symptoms, but it’s usually important to recognize that you have depression first. Once you admit that you have depression and accept that it isn’t a sign of weakness or something wrong with you, the next step is figuring out which coping mechanisms and management skills work for you. 

That might include going to talk therapy or working with a psychiatrist to find a good medication that helps manage your mood. Or you might need to exercise, get more time outside, and make sure you’re giving yourself plenty of time for hobbies and spending time with your friends. 

All these options are good ways to manage high-functioning depression, but they require you to reach out to other people and professionals for support and additional help. 

If your depression is getting out of hand, or if you feel like it’s impossible to change, you may also want to consider a treatment center to see if getting some time away from the stress of life, and getting active treatment for your depression, helps you kick start recovery and learn healthy coping mechanisms. 

A good way to get started is to reach out to friends and family, let them know your suspicions, ask for help coping with low mood, or get more motivation in life again. 

Remember, your friends and family may be surprised to learn that you have high-functioning depression because your depression probably doesn’t look the way they would expect depression to look. That’s not bad, but you should expect it can feel invalidating if you don’t know it’s coming. 

Take your time, explain, and talk to them about what you need and are looking for in life. Your real friends and family should be more than willing to help, as they are able. 

Epiphany Wellness treatment center has options for people with various mental illnesses, including high-functioning depression. So don’t let your depression get worse. Get the help you deserve to live the life you’ve been dreaming of. 




  1. NIMH. Depression. www.nimh.nih.gov. Published July 2022. Accessed September 1, 2022. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression#part_2255
  2. Sanjana Gupta. What Is ‘High-Functioning’ Depression?. verywellmind.com. Published July 12, 2022. Accessed September 1, 2022. https://www.verywellmind.com/high-functioning-depression-causes-symptoms-and-treatment-5324550
  3. Caitlin Geng. Is there a link between depression and substance misuse?. Medicalnewstoday.com. Published February 27, 2022. Accessed September 1, 2022. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/depression-and-substance-abuse

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