What is High-Functioning Depression?

Depression mask

Not everyone with depression fits the stereotypical image of depression.  We envision depression as an isolated individual whose school work is slipping, who can’t get out of bed, who has this perpetual look of somberness, whose overwhelming feelings of despair are visible. The problem is that mental illness doesn’t discriminate.  It doesn’t affect one type of person, nor does it appear the same in every person.  In the case of High-Functioning Depression (HFD), the signs of depression are often hidden under the mask of a “perfect” life.  HFD is often referred to as low-grade depression, because while it often doesn’t completely debilitate a person, it still lowers quality of life and should be treated as a serious mental health issue.  Often those with HFD dismiss their depression because they also believe they don’t fit the mold of depression.  These suppressed feelings, however, can add up and cause depressed episodes that can last days or even months.

What does High-Functioning Depression look like?

  1. Striving for perfectionism

Those with HFD tend to be over-critical of themselves to the point where they constantly feel like they are not doing enough and are always coming up short.  While it is important to maintain some level of self-criticism, striving for a level of “perfectionism” can lead to an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness.

  1. The need to be busy

Along with trying to achieve that “perfect” life, those with HFD will constantly find things to do in order to feel like they are being productive.  What is distinct about those with HFD is that despite keeping busy, they feel that they are wasting their time, leading to loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities.  This can manifest in nervous ticks or lack of sleep.

  1. Turning to substance abuse

Like many forms of depression, HFD can lead to substance abuse as an outlet for coping with their mental illness.  This may be difficult to spot, as a person with HFD will attempt to cover up any signs that they are abusing alcohol or drugs.

What to do

The first step in treating HFD is to recognize it.  It can be difficult for students to admit that they have a mental health issue, especially when today’s society creates such negative stigmas around mental health illnesses.  Treatment can be as simple as talking to a close friend or family member before making the decision to see a therapist.  Working on mindfulness and placing importance on self-care can help students to recognize and address the issue.

On-Campus resources and activities

Students can reach out any time to the counselors at the Engemann Student Health Center for support.  For students looking to unwind, the Office for Wellness and Health Promotion holds Happy Hour Yoga every Wednesday from 4:00-5:00.  USC’s own Wellness Dog, Professor Beau, also holds office hours so students can visit while they relax or study.


By Hannah Chow, USC Student, Be Well Blogger


What is High Functioning Depression, Anxiety? Low-Grade Mood Disorder Can be Dangerous        http://www.medicaldaily.com/what-high-functioning-depression-anxiety-low-grade-mood-disorder-can-be-394309

What It’s Like to have High-Functioning Anxiety                                              https://themighty.com/2016/06/living-with-high-functioning-and-hidden-anxiety/



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