High-Functioning Depression Symptoms – 7 Signs and Diagnostic Criteria

Do you know someone who appears to have it all together on the outside, but is secretly struggling with depression? This is often called high-functioning depression. But the clinical diagnosis is actually different. Keep reading to learn about high-functioning depression symptoms and more.

Are you feeling down for longer than two years but still managing to keep up with everyday life? You may have high-functioning depression, also known as dysthymia or persistent depressive disorder (PDD). This type of chronic depression is characterized by several symptoms including low self-esteem, feelings of hopelessness, poor concentration and energy levels. To get the support that can help manage your PDD symptoms effectively – such as therapy sessions and medications – make sure to incorporate healthy habits like exercise into your regular routine too!

Definition – What Is High-Functioning Depression?

This form of depression, also known as dysthymia, is a type of chronic depression. The clinical diagnosis is persistent depressive disorder, and high-functioning depression is just a colloquial term used to describe it. It’s called that because high-functioning depression symptoms may not be as severe or disabling as major depressive disorder, but they still have a negative impact on daily functioning.

Editor’s Note

Even if you seemingly have it all – a successful career and fulfilling personal life – depression can still lurk inside. High-functioning depression, or dysthymia, is very real and there are various treatments available to help get back on track. Don’t suffer in silence; take the first step towards feeling better by consulting with your doctor today!
definition - what is high functioning depression

Dysthymia vs. Episodes of Major Depression

Dysthymic disorder (functional depression) may be less severe than major depressive disorder, but it can still cause significant impairment. One key difference is that high functioning depression symptoms last for at least two years, while major depression typically involves episodes that come and go.

On the outside, people with high-functioning depression may appear successful and put together, but they are still struggling with persistent low mood, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, and difficulty making decisions. They may open up to close friends or family about their struggles, but generally try to keep up appearances in other settings.

7 Signs of High-Functioning Depression

If you suspect there’s something deeper going on beneath your stress or sadness, keep these key traits in mind:

  1. low mood or feelings of sadness for most of the day, for more days than not, for at least two years;
  2. difficulty making decisions or poor concentration;
  3. low energy or fatigue;
  4. insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too little or too much);
  5. low self-esteem;
  6. feelings of hopelessness;
  7. poor appetite or overeating.

To be diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder, one must have the first symptom and two of the other six. It’s also worth noting that high-functioning depression symptoms can vary from person to person, and may also change over time.

Other Diagnostic Criteria for PDD

Even with the right number of symptoms, one must meet other diagnostic criteria for this type of depression. Here they are:

  1. Symptoms must have been present for at least two years (one year for children and adolescents).
  2. During the two-year period, the individual has never been without the symptoms for more than two months at a time.
  3. The individual has never had a manic or hypomanic episode, and they have never met the criteria for cyclothymic or bipolar disorder.
  4. The symptoms cannot be explained better by a different mental disorder, e.g., schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder.
  5. The symptoms cannot be attributed to substance use or a physical health condition such as hypothyroidism.
  6. The symptoms cause significant distress or impairment in the person’s social life, work, or another important area of life.

These criteria help ensure that persistent depressive disorder is an accurate diagnosis for the individual. If it’s just a temporary period of low mood, or if another health condition or substance is causing the symptoms, neither high-functioning depression nor clinical depression may be the best explanation.

Dealing With High-Functioning Depression Symptoms

Fortunately, high-functioning depression symptoms are treatable. Many people find relief through therapy, medication, or a combination of the two. It’s important to seek help, as chronic depression can last for years if left untreated. Mild depression can also evolve into more severe forms with time.

If you think you have symptoms of a depressive disorder, talk to a mental health professional about your concerns and possible treatment options. Together, you can work towards managing symptoms and improving overall well-being.


In addition to seeking professional help, self-care can also play a role in managing depressive symptoms. Here are some self-care tips to try:

  • Make time for activities you enjoy, such as exercise or hobbies.
  • Prioritize healthy habits, like eating well and getting enough sleep.
  • Take breaks or set boundaries in high-stress situations.
  • Reach out for support from loved ones or a support group.
  • Practice mindfulness or relaxation techniques.

Remember, high-functioning depression is still depression and deserves to be treated and managed. Don’t be afraid to seek help and take care of yourself, especially if you suffer from chronic pain or another condition that causes depressive episodes.

Summary: Functional Depression Is Treatable

With high-functioning depression, it can be difficult to recognize the presence of its subtle yet potentially debilitating symptoms. It is important to know what they are in order to identify any signs and get help if needed. Thankfully, there are effective treatments available such as therapy, medication, and self-care that can lead you or a loved one down the path towards wellness again. Don’t ignore warning signals; reach out for assistance today!

what is high functioning depression - frequently asked questions

Frequently Asked Questions

What Are the Five Major Signs of Depression?

The five major signs of depression are feelings of sadness or emptiness, loss of interest in activities, changes in appetite or weight, difficulty sleeping, and decreased energy.

What Is the Most Harmful Symptom of Depression?

Depression can be devastating, and the most damaging symptom are suicidal thoughts. If you or someone close to you has these thoughts it’s urgent that help be sought right away – don’t wait. Make sure your mental health gets the support needed now!

What Is the Peak Age of Onset for Depression?

The peak age of onset for depression is between 18 and 25 years old.

What Is the Most Commonly Reported Mental Illness?

The most commonly reported mental illness is anxiety disorder, which affects 40 million adults in the United States.

What Is High-Functioning Mental Illness?

High-functioning mental illness is a term used to describe individuals who are able to live and work with a mental illness without significant disruption to their daily lives.

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