HFD is a type of illusion. Those who have it are master magicians, appearing jubilant and content on the outside, while suffering deeply, on the inside.
Depression, as a whole, affects 350 million people worldwide. So the chances that you know someone, or more than one person, who suffers from it are not unlikely.
High-Functioning Depression is a bit more tricky to identify than other kinds of depression because people who suffer from it don’t appear to be doing so bad- at least, on the surface. They manage to keep up a facade of everything just being ‘okay,’ and act as if things are progressing smoothly in their life, but on the inside they feel broken and shattered to their core.
If you know of someone who might be suffering from HFD and your intentions are to help, please note that these signs are not to be regarded as an official means of diagnosis, and that one should refer to a medical professional or therapist to make their clinical evaluation.
1. They are always highly critical of themselves.
A clear indicator of HFD is a profound sense of extreme self criticism. If you often hear them say things like “I’m not good enough,” or “I can never do anything right,” it could be a sign of something more.
When instances of failure or negative thoughts apply broadly rather than to an isolated act, it’s a sign that the person’s mental health should be looked into. Even if it is passed off as a joke, take it seriously. You know this person is well accomplished and respected by many (explaining the high-functioning part), but their responses and outward behaviour go beyond modesty and straight into self-denial.
2. Irritability, anxiety and irregular sleep patterns
Those who have HFD have an adept ability to maintain an atmosphere of everything being just fine when around company, making it extremely difficult to try and help.
They might act irritable or seem anxious at times, also a sign of depression that is known to perpetuate depressive states even further. And if you ask them how they are doing, they will tell you “fine,” “great,” or “good.” The thing is, they don’t feel depressed, not like the people in the depression commercials on TV. Symptoms of HFD are different, and like most mental health conditions, it all depends on their circumstances.
If you notice a change in their sleep pattern, it can also be a sign of low-level chronic depression, but this problem might not be true for someone with HFD, since they are usually quite good at keeping deadlines, and experts at making it seem like nothing really is wrong. “Good sleep is key to good mental health,” says Carol Landau, PhD, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Brown University.
3. They put enormous amounts of pressure on themselves at work.
On the surface they seem to be thriving in their work environment but in reality they’re ready to just call it quits. Who hasn’t felt like that at one point?
However, the reason those with HFD feel this way is different than most. People with HFD tend to excel at whatever they do, but it will never seem to be good enough for them. Their expectations of themselves are so high, and to themselves they fail each and every time. Because of this, their emotions turn to emptiness, and what should bring them comfort brings them numbness instead.
They will go to almost drastic lengths to keep up their positive appearance and see to their commitments as though nothing is wrong. Usually, the inability for them to deal with this somewhat somber and futile state of existence leads them to this next point.
4. Alcoholism, substance abuse or changing of habits.
Not saying that every alcoholic or junkie out there suffers from HFD, but when someone who does suffer from it develops a regular pattern of trying to curb the pain and anguish with the use of substances, then it is their personal well-being that is at stake.
Signs that we need to look out for include: Sudden loss of interest in hobbies; making up of excuses for odd/clumsy behaviour; higher intake of substances than intended becomes more frequent; only interest they have is in things that can cause numbness, or mood changes.
Drugs and alcohol have also been proven to exacerbate the effects of depression and anxiety, so probably not the best route to go down if you already suffer from either. Regardless at how you look at substance abuse, it is easy to understand why someone who is going through all of this would resort to such measures. Especially when they don’t feel as if they have anyone who would understand or support them through it.
5. Futility, withdrawal and higher suicide risk.
Trying to explain to a person with HFD that they need serious professional help is like trying to draw blood from a stone. Showing them the light does nothing but make them retreat further into a state of morose withdrawal.
This is the point where the sufferer ultimately ceases to find anything in life compelling or worth doing. Anhedonia as it is referred to in the clinical sense, is defined by the inability to experience pleasure from something that is normally pleasurable. The sense of futility or hopelessness that they constantly feel leads them to thoughts of just entirely giving up on life, this is when High-functioning depression is at it’s most discreet, but also most dangerous.
Some of us, as humans, feel an innate obligation to help those who are desperately suffering. This can be quite a task when it comes to someone with High-functioning depression, as its almost impossible to convince them that their well-being is due for a service (no matter how you put it). If you can’t seem to go over, under, or around this huge wall that they’ve built, then start removing the bricks one at a time and no matter what, let them know they are loved without judgment. And remember, there’s always alternative therapy methods.
On a final note, if you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please know that you are not alone. The world is a big, beautiful place, but there’s only one of you. And the world needs you.