Living with High-Functioning Depression

Last month, Cheslie Kryst jumped from a high-rise building to her death. The New York City Medical Examiner confirmed that the 30-year-old attorney and former Miss USA died by suicide.

Her mother later released a statement to Extra, an entertainment news outlet where Kryst was a correspondent. She stated that Kryst had been “dealing with high-functioning depression which she hid from everyone – including me, her closest confidant – until very shortly before her death.”

As a result of Kryst’s tragic story, high-functioning depression has come into the spotlight. Many wanting to know what it is. And what the warning signs look like.

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What is High-Functioning Depression?

Depression is a mental health disorder characterized by a persistent depressed mood or loss of interest in activities. These result in a significant impairment in daily life. It comes in levels of severity, can affect all personalities, and does not always present itself in the same way.

In some people, depression is harder to detect since the mental illness may be less severe.

High-functioning depression is one of those types. It is a non-medical term that describes depression among people who meet the criteria for a clinical diagnosis of depression, but who are able to function normally and maintain productive lives.

People often “carry this image of individuals who are crying, who are stuck in bed, who are suicidal,” said Jameca Woody Cooper, a psychologist and adjunct professor at Webster University in Missouri, in a recent article in The Washington Post. “When in fact, [this type of depression] looks totally different in people who are functioning every day.”

Individuals who are struggling with high-functioning depression typically are doing well academically and/or professionally. They are able to go through their lives and daily routines without showing any signs of sadness or lack of energy. On the inside, however, is a different story.

Internally, they are simply going through the motions without experiencing any real joy or satisfaction.

They are able to go through their lives and daily routines without showing any signs of sadness or lack of energy.

Those with this disorder “can be suffering with mental illness and still appear outwardly to be able to function or not appear mentally ill to an outside observer,” said Rebecca Brendel, president-elect of the American Psychiatric Association, in the same Washington Post article.

This type of depression hides behind a person’s ability to function. So it can be undetectable to an outsider, as was the case of Cheslie Kryst. Those closest to the person suffering invisibly may never even realize that that person is struggling at all.

Signs of High-Functioning Depression

For the reasons stated above, it can be difficult to recognize the signs of those struggling with high-functioning depression. Therefore, experts advise to watch for subtle changes, such as shifts in energy, mood and/or quality of sleep. Though these signs could be from not prioritizing one’s self-care routine, it may be wise to seek professional help if they persist over a two-week period.

Other symptoms that could potentially signal concern include:

  • Negative thoughts about the future
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Bouts of insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and isolation

Certain individuals may be more at risk than others in developing this type of depression. Experts often see it in:

  • Those with Type-A personalities
  • Those who are people-pleasers
  • Those struggling with perfectionism and feeling the pressure to live up to a specific image

“None of those are bad qualities, but they can also factor into a person’s system of beliefs about themselves,” said Natalie Dattilo, a clinical psychologist with Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, in the same Washington Post article. All of which “can contribute to the pressure to perform and to be a certain way and to have certain things.”

Like other forms of depression, high-functioning depression may also get triggered by a traumatic event in life. Some examples are losing a loved one or developing a serious illness.

Additionally, it is more common in those who have a family history of depression.

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Treatment

There are many shades of depression, as it can range in both severity and length. Thankfully, though, depression is treatable. Therapy is a great place to start for those who are struggling with high-functioning depression.

It can help develop coping skills, as well as help identify the negative thought patterns, beliefs, and habits that may be contributing to feeling depressed. Antidepressant medication and engaging in activities linked to improving mood, such as exercise, have also shown to be helpful for some.

Loved ones can also partake in the treatment process. Experts advise to first get the conversation going about depression. Start talking with the person who is struggling about their recent behavior and ask questions in order to get a better gauge as to their mental health.

Being able to talk about depression openly can help ease the isolation that results from individuals internalizing their mental health condition. During these conversations, experts also recommend sharing your own personal experiences of seeking mental health support.

During these conversations, experts also recommend sharing your own personal experiences of seeking mental health support.

Admitting that you need help is not easy for anyone. Don’t tell someone who is struggling outright that they need therapy. Instead, have a referral to a mental health professional ready in case they do ask for support and have made the decision on their own to start the treatment process.

For information about treatment options for you or a loved one, call 800-598-5053 (Who Answers?) today.

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