Part 1: High-Functioning Mental Illness – What is It?

When people think of depression, they usually think of people who have very low moods, are physically and mentally exhausted, lack motivation and energy, and lack a sense of overwhelming hopelessness. They usually think of the people who have extreme difficulty getting out of bed, are isolated, and have thoughts suicide/self-harm or act out on them.[1]

While this may be true for many people with depression, it is not the only type.

I was diagnosed with mild depression and anxiety 7 years ago. And over the past 7 years, I’ve been really confused about my diagnosis, as I am the opposite to what I described above. I am full of life, a generally happy and motivated person. I don’t lie in bed all day, instead I am very productive and love spending time with friends. I also make sure I take care of myself. So, how could I have depression and anxiety? “The doctors must be wrong,” I thought.

I did have the common symptoms of depression and anxiety some days, but still, no one besides my close friends would have ever guessed.

My depression and anxiety used to be much worse. While it is possible to grow out of it, I know I still have it.

One of the only obvious signs that I still have depression is that whenever I go off my medication because I think I’m better (or forget to take it even for a day) my mood, energy and everything else drops.

I just recently discovered that when it comes to depression, anxiety or any type of mental illness, there are actually different levels of functioning.

A person with high-functioning mental illness “is able to conceal their dysfunctional behavior in certain public settings and maintain a positive public or professional profile.”[2] They are able to live a normal, healthy, productive life while still struggling with the internal battles of depression and anxiety. Sometimes, those who are high-functioning have a low self esteem and have negative thoughts about themselves, even when they are successful.[3]

High-functioning individuals are able to “participate in society convincingly in the workplace, in social groups, in churches and organizations.” They are also able to be leaders in their field of work. It is most likely that the only people who know of their depression are their closest friends and family.

Low-functioning mental illess is the opposite of that. These people struggle more with day to day life. Sometimes, these people are reclusive, unemployed, chronically depressed, in psychiatric faculties, struggle with addiction, or constantly get in trouble with the law.

It is not uncommon for people to switch between high and low functioning. It can switch due to circumstances, surroundings, life changes, season changes or for no reason at all.

Lastly, just because those with high-functioning mental illness are able to be productive, it doesn’t come easy or naturally. Even though they have the ability to push through, finishing a task can feel more difficult and tiring than it should be. Sometimes, when loved ones see these people doing so well, they fail to realize or remember that these people are also depressed.[4]

Part 2 will cover the positives and negatives of having high-functioning mental illness, compared to low-functioning.

Here is a really informative video about living with high-functioning anxiety, originally posted by The Mighty.


References

[1] Timberline Knolls. (n.d.). High-Functioning Depression Signs & Symptoms. Retrieved from High-Functioning Depression Signs & Symptoms

[2] “High-Functioning and Low-Functioning.” (n.d.). Out of the Fog. Retrieved from http://outofthefog.website/other-articles/2015/12/12/high-functioning-and-low-functioning

[3] Fox, A. (2016). What High Functioning Anxiety Really Feels Like. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/high-functioning-anxiety_us_57f8042ce4b0e655eab41cdb

[4] Timberline Knolls, n.d.

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