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The Hidden Storm: Recognizing And Managing High-Functioning Depression

The Hidden Storm: Recognizing And Managing High-Functioning Depression

A woman suffering from depression

Depression. The word conjures images of someone withdrawn, listless, and unable to cope with daily life. But what about the high achiever, the seemingly happy friend, the person who holds it all together? High functioning depression, a lesser-known but equally real form of illness, can lurk beneath the surface, creating a hidden storm that goes unnoticed for far too long.

In recent years, a handful of cases have drawn  some attention to high-functioning depression, yet none has resonated more deeply than the story of former Miss USA, Cheslie Kryst, who tragically passed away in January 2022, at the age of 30. Her death shocked and saddened many, as she was known not only for her achievements as Miss USA 2019 but also for her accomplished career in law and TV hosting, advocacy work and vibrant personality. The cause of her death was reported as suicide, highlighting the profound impact of mental health struggles even on individuals who outwardly appear successful and accomplished.

High functioning depression
Photo: Pixabay/Pexels

Recently, Cheslie Kryst’s memoir, titled “The Beauty of Imperfection,” was released posthumously. This memoir has been received with both admiration and introspection, as it chronicles her life, including her experiences with high-functioning depression and the pressures she faced in striving for perfection. Through her memoir, Kryst continues to inspire conversations about mental health, resilience, and the importance of seeking help.

Let’s delve into the complexities of high-functioning depression, and equip you with the knowledge to recognize it in yourself or someone you care about. We’ll explore the signs and symptoms, unpack self-awareness challenges, and offer practical strategies for managing this often invisible struggle.

Beneath the Mask: Signs and Symptoms of High-Functioning Depression

A woman suffering from depression
Photo: Leeloo the first/Pexels

While the outward presentation might be one of success and productivity, the internal experience of someone with high-functioning depression can be quite different. Here are some key signs to watch for:

  • Persistent low mood: A pervasive sense of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness that lingers even during seemingly good times.
  • Diminished interest and pleasure: Activities that once brought joy may feel like a chore. Hobbies become a burden, and social interaction can feel draining.
  • Fatigue and difficulty concentrating: Despite appearing busy, there’s an underlying exhaustion that makes even basic tasks feel overwhelming. Difficulty focusing and staying on top of things can further exacerbate feelings of inadequacy.
  • Negative self-perception: Self-criticism, feelings of worthlessness, and a constant internal dialogue of negativity can become hallmarks of high-functioning depression.

Remember that these symptoms can vary from person to person. High-functioning depression doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all presentation. For instance, someone might still be highly motivated and productive at work but struggle with a deep sense of emptiness and anhedonia (inability to experience pleasure) in their personal life.

The Chameleon: Why Self-Awareness Can Be Challenging

High end depression
Photo: SHVETS productions/Pexels

One of the biggest challenges of high-functioning depression is self-awareness. Because these individuals often maintain a façade of normalcy, they might convince themselves (and others) that they’re “fine.” Additionally, the pressure to succeed and maintain a positive image can make it difficult to acknowledge any internal struggles.

Here are some reasons why self-awareness can be tricky:

  • Social stigma: Fear of judgment or being perceived as weak can prevent individuals from seeking help. Celebrities like Wayne Brady and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson have spoken openly about their battles with depression, helping to chip away at this stigma, but it persists.
  • Internalized stigma: Even within oneself, there can be a belief that needing help is a sign of failure. This is a harmful misconception, but it can be deeply ingrained.
  • The “should” monster: The pressure to live up to unrealistic expectations and societal norms–the “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts”–can cloud judgment and make it difficult to recognize depression. Social media, with its curated portrayals of perfect lives, can exacerbate this pressure.

Breaking the Silence: Strategies for Managing High-Functioning Depression

The good news is that high-functioning depression is treatable. Here are some ways to manage this condition and reclaim your emotional well-being:

  • Challenge negative thinking patterns: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of therapy that can be particularly helpful in this regard. CBT helps you identify and challenge negative thought patterns that contribute to depression. Celebrities like Chrissy Teigen and Victoria Beckham have credited CBT with helping them manage their mental health.
  • Practice self-compassion: Treat yourself with kindness and understanding, just as you would a valued friend. This doesn’t mean ignoring your strugglesbut it does mean approaching them with empathy rather than self-criticism. Mindfulness practices like meditation can help cultivate self-compassion.
  • Prioritize self-care: Make time for activities that nourish your mind, body, and spirit, whether it’s exercise, meditation, spending time in nature, or connecting with loved ones. Self-care isn’t selfish; it’s essential for maintaining your mental and emotional well-being. Actress Zendaya is a vocal advocate for self-care, often talking about the importance of taking mental health days.
  • Seek professional help: Talking to a therapist can be invaluable in understanding your depression and developing coping mechanisms. A therapist can provide a safe space for you to explore your feelings and develop a personalized treatment plan. Celebrities like Ryan Reynolds and Mariah Carey have spoken openly about seeking professional help for their mental health, helping to normalize therapy.

You’re Not Alone: Professionals Can Help

You are not alone

High-functioning depression might be hidden, but it doesn’t have to control you. By understanding the signs and symptoms, challenging negative self-perceptions, and prioritizing self-care, you can weather the storm and rediscover your inner sunshine.

Remember, seeking professional help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Take the first step towards recovery and reclaim your emotional well-being. You are worthy of feeling good, and some people can help you get there.

Building a Strong Support System

Supporting a friend

Confronting depression, whether high-functioning or otherwise, is significantly easier with a strong support system in place. Here are some ways to build and nurture your support network:

  • Confide in trusted friends and family: Sharing your struggles with loved ones can be a powerful step towards healing. Choose people who are empathetic, non-judgmental, and willing to listen without offering unsolicited advice. Singer Demi Lovato has spoken about the importance of having a supportive family during her struggles with depression.
  • Consider support groups: Connecting with others who understand what you’re going through can be incredibly validating and empowering. Online and in-person support groups can provide a safe space to share your experiences and learn from others. Actress Kristen Bell has spoken about finding solace in online support groups during her battle with anxiety and depression.
  • Don’t isolate yourself: While social interaction might feel draining at times, social isolation can worsen depressionMake an effort to stay connected with loved ones, even if it’s just a phone call or video chat.

Final thoughts

High-functioning depression can be a complex and isolating experience. But by recognizing the signs, prioritizing self-care, and building a strong support system, you can take control of your mental health and reclaim your life.

Remember, you are not alone. Millions of people around the world struggle with depression, and there is help available. With courage, self-compassion, and the right support, you can soar above this and emerge stronger on the other side.

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