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High Functioning Depression Symptoms: What To Watch Out For

About 20.78% of adults in the U.S., or 50 million Americans, live with mental illness, per 2019-2020 data from Mental Health America. Around 21 million adults in the U.S. (8.4%) have experienced a major depressive episode.

Because people with high-functioning depression appear outwardly successful, their symptoms often go unnoticed or are dismissed by others. But living with untreated depression can take a major toll on health, relationships, and quality of life over time.

The key is to recognize the signs, reach out for help from people who care about you, and consider seeing a doctor or mental health professional.

What is High Functioning Depression?

Unlike the stereotypical depression that leaves you unable to get out of bed, high-functioning depression means you can still go about your day while experiencing mental anguish. You go to work, see friends, and fulfill responsibilities, but on the inside, you feel hopeless and sad.

The tricky part is that from the outside, most people wouldn’t suspect a thing. You’ve learned coping strategies to mask your inner turmoil and push through, but inside, you wish someone could see through the facade.

Causes of ‘High-Functioning’ Depression

Several factors can contribute to the development of high-functioning depression.

  • Brain chemistry: Imbalances in neurotransmitters, the brain chemicals that regulate your mood, can lead to depression. Having too little serotonin, norepinephrine, or dopamine can make you prone to depressed feelings.
  • Genetics: Depression often runs in families and can have a genetic component. If you have close family members with depression, you’re more likely to experience it yourself.
  • Life events: Going through stressful life events like ending a relationship, losing your job, or the death of someone close to you may trigger the onset of depression. Traumatic events can also contribute to conditions like depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
  • Medical conditions: If you have a chronic health issue such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, or chronic pain, you have a higher chance of also dealing with depression.
  • Trauma: Experiencing traumatic or highly stressful events can increase your risk of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Medication: Certain medications like corticosteroids or interferon can cause depression as a side effect in some people. If you started a new medication around the time your symptoms began, talk to your doctor.
  • Substance Use: Drinking too much alcohol or using recreational drugs can also lead to or worsen depression. These substances impact your brain chemistry and mood. Consider cutting back or quitting to see if your depression symptoms improve.

Common Symptoms of High-Functioning Depression

Some of the common symptoms of high-functioning depression include:

  • Avoiding social activities: You may stop engaging in hobbies or social interactions that you used to enjoy. Making excuses to skip get-togethers or not answering messages from friends and family. Isolating yourself can worsen feelings of depression.
  • Changes in appetite: You could experience either a decrease or increase in appetite. Some people lose interest in food altogether, while others may overeat or snack frequently as a coping mechanism.
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions: Problems focusing, remembering details, or indecisiveness can all point to depression. Once easy tasks may now feel overwhelming or pointless.
  • Excessive anger or irritability: Feeling irritated, restless, or short-tempered for no reason. Small annoyances set you off more easily. Finding healthy ways to relieve stress and pent-up emotions is key.
  • Fatigue and low energy: A lack of motivation or feeling physically tired is common. Mundane chores may feel exhausting, and you have little interest in being active or productive.

High-Functioning Depression Treatment Options

While high-functioning depression can feel overwhelming, there are treatment options that can help. The most effective approaches are often a combination of medication and therapy.


Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and mindfulness techniques can help you work on the shame or fear of having depression in addition to the depression itself.

A therapist can help you identify negative thought patterns and give you strategies to reframe them into more positive ones. They can also help you develop coping strategies for stressful situations.


Antidepressant medication will likely be prescribed for moderate to severe depression. These medications work by improving the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine that regulate mood and stress.

It can take 4 to 6 weeks to start feeling the effects, and you may need to try different medications or dosages to find what works best for you. Don’t get discouraged – there are many options and with patience you can find the right solution.

Lifestyle Changes

Making positive lifestyle changes can also help significantly. Exercise releases endorphins that naturally improve your mood. Engaging in social interaction and maintaining relationships can help combat isolation and negative thoughts.

Reducing stress through relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation is also beneficial. Sticking to a routine, limiting alcohol and avoiding recreational drugs will support your treatment plan.

Seeking Help for High-Functioning Depression

Seeking professional help for high-functioning depression is one of the best steps you can take. Depression is a serious but treatable condition, and a therapist can help you develop coping strategies and find the right treatment plan.

You don’t have to deal with high-functioning depression alone. Help and hope are absolutely within your reach. Call Riviera Recovery today at 855-207-9708 to learn more about our mental health and transitional living programs. We’re committed to guiding you onto the path of recovery and wellness.