High-functioning depression, also known as dysthymia, is a biological and psychological disorder that requires adequate and clinically appropriate treatment.
The tricky thing about high-functioning depression is that it’s hard to spot precisely because the people dealing with it look, from the outside, like they’re holding it all together.
This can lead to a lack of ability to self-identify as depressed and, moreover, a possible resistance to seeking treatment because of the stigma surrounding more “typical” depression.
If left untreated, high-functioning depression, or dysthymia, may greatly diminish the overall quality of life, your career, your relationships, and it can bloom into more challenging mental health concerns if left untreated.
So, in today’s blog post, we want to outline ten ways that high-functioning depression may show up in your day-to-day life.
10 Signs of High-Functioning Depression
1. Constant self-doubt. You may constantly doubt whether or not you’re on the right career path, whether you’re in the right relationship, doubt what you’re doing with your life and if you can even handle being an adult. This pattern of constant self-doubt may be situational or pervasive but it’s something that feels like you just can’t get over.
2. Difficulty experiencing joy. With high-functioning depression, the things that used to bring you pleasure — whether this is a cherished yoga class or a monthly ritual of getting together with your girlfriends — these same things don’t bring you joy anymore. They may feel like burdens or events you want to avoid because it feels like more of an effort than a support.
3. Diminished energy. If it feels like getting through each day is like walking up a mountain with a backpack of rocks, if you feel like you barely have the mental, emotional, and physical energy to handle your life anymore, if your overall energy levels are greatly diminished, this could be a sign of high-functioning depression.
4. Relentless criticality – of self and others. You may have a relentless and invasive internal narrative that’s critical of yourself, of others, and of the world in general. You think you’re a failure, you think your boss is an idiot, your partner’s the most irritating person to have ever lived, and life’s just one big slog. This chronically negative thought pattern may feel like something you just can’t turn off.
5. Irritability or excessive anger. If you find yourself blowing up over small things — your partner says something wrong, your coworker messed up a project, your kid just broke your favorite coffee mug, if you find yourself exploding in a way that feels disproportionate to the event, if irritability and excessive anger are something you’re wrestling with, this may be a sign.
6. Feelings of guilt and worry over the past and the future. You worry that you chose the wrong career in college, you question whether you’re in the right grad school program, you worry about paying off all those student loans, you worry that your biological clock is running out, you worry that you married the wrong partner, you worry about who’s going to care for your folks when they get older, etc., etc., etc.. We all have these worries from time to time, but if feelings of guilt and worry over your past and future feel pervasive and dominant, this may be more than “normal” worry.
7. Relying on your coping strategies more and more. If you find yourself needing extensive zone-out time after work and on the weekends, turning towards your coping mechanisms more often than not — such as substances or behaviors like using alcohol, weed, excessive gaming, constant Netflix, etc., — all in an effort to escape your life, this could speak to underlying depression.
8. Generalized sadness. If you find yourself feeling a generalized sense of sadness that you can’t seem to pinpoint the cause of, if you drop your mask and armors of smiling competency when you close your door behind you, if you feel a subtle sense of hopelessness, this could speak to high-functioning depression.
9. Seeking perfection. This one’s a tough one. In a way our society condones perfectionism — getting good grades, getting into the Ivies, landing that amazing tech job, striving, striving, striving. But perfectionism has a shadow side where striving turns into unrealistic demands of yourself and psychologically beating yourself up when you fall short of the bar you set for yourself. If you find yourself doing this and it’s causing you distress, be curious about whether this a sign of high-functioning depression.
10. Inability to rest and slow down. If you need to clean up, tidy, and organize the house after you arrive home from an exhausting day of work before you even consider letting yourself rest, if you find yourself uncomfortable with slowness, stillness, and fallow periods of time because of the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings you come into contact with when you do actually slow down, this could be a sign of high-functioning depression.
Now, a caveat to this list: Chances are we can all see ourselves in this list some of the time.
Occasional diminished energy, a desire to really indulge in your coping mechanism of choice, irritability after a long day, all of these are normal and natural human experiences.
Where we want to be curious is if you’re feeling most of these signs, most of the time, for durations that span months if not years. That’s when there’s a greater likelihood that you’re dealing with high-functioning depression, or, in other words, dysthymia.
While there is no single reason why someone develops dysthymia or high-functioning depression and while there is not necessarily a way to prevent it, there are several evidence-based effective treatment modalities to help you manage and support yourself if you deal with it.
If you see yourself in this article and would like more support in navigating through this, please reach out to us here. We would love to be of support to you.