What is High-Functioning Depression?

high functioning depression

“High-functioning depression” has been a buzzword in the headlines after former Miss USA Cheslie Kryst tragically died by suicide last month. Ms. Kryst was successful and high-achieving. She was an attorney, a fashion blogger, an entertainment news correspondent, and a volunteer. People who knew her reported being shocked to learn that she had been struggling with depression, which has opened up a broader conversation about depression, suicide, and warning signs to look out for.

What is “high-functioning depression”? 

High-functioning depression is not an actual medical diagnosis, and there is some controversy among mental health professionals about the use of this label. The term points to a harmful stereotype that those with depression are often low-functioning, low-achieving, melancholy and lethargic. 

In reality, the symptoms of depression can manifest in many ways, and depression can look very different from one person to the next in terms of both symptoms and severity. In fact, most people with depression are able to function for the most part. They get through their day doing what they need to get done, all the while going through the motions and battling feelings like emptiness, numbness, hopelessness, and worthlessness. 

It’s important to point out that even those who appear to “have it all together” can actually be suffering deeply. Otherwise, we risk overlooking an entire population of people with depression. 

Getting help

Those with “high-functioning” depression may be less likely to get help, perhaps in part because of a reluctance to admit that something is wrong. They also may be less likely to talk about how they’re feeling for fear that their suffering will be minimized or denied. 

So if someone who appears to “have it all together” tells you they’ve been struggling with symptoms of depression, believe them, and encourage them to get help. If you are struggling with this more “hidden” version of depression yourself, we encourage you to seek help as well.