(High Functioning) Depression
Let’s get real here…depression does not discriminate. And, for that matter, anxiety, bipolar disorder, suicide, trauma, don’t discriminate either. Individuals from all age groups, gender identities, cultures, religions, races and social-economic backgrounds have depression… and, it is not something that should be a secret. It is not shameful. It does not make you less valuable… it only makes you less ‘able’ at times. Less able to work without rest, keep up the mask, hold back emotion, and carry on like it is all fine. It signals the need for rest, support, and (self) compassion.
Often, when people talk about depression, the myths of “what depression looks like” abound. The image of someone who can’t get out of bed, threatens suicide, and can’t hold down a job, is often what people refer to when talking about depression. However, some of the most successful and ambitious individuals have depression and continue to “work through it” day after day….going through the motions, or appearing to “have it all together”, complete with a smile and cute hairstyle. It could be the father who leads the little league softball team, the PTA mom who brings in all the yummy baked goods for school events, the little girl in elementary school who quietly completes her assignments, and the person who cuts your hair in her trendy and cute outfits.
There is such a thing as “High Functioning Depression” which is often categorized as Persistent Dysthymic Disorder or Dysthymia. These people go through their day, pushing through feelings of exhaustion, irritability, sadness, and loss of pleasure. They go about their routine, getting up in the morning, making it to work, and going through the motions of daily life, completing assignments or work projects, raising a family, and even making it to the grocery store to fill the refrigerator with nutritious food. Until… one day… they can’t muster up the strength or willpower to trudge through the muck anymore. So they stop.
Sometimes they stop by spending a day under the covers in bed or binge-watching episodes on Netflix or crying in the shower, in the car, and at the kitchen table. Sometimes it is spending days in bed, not eating or eating very little, and isolating from friends and family. And sometimes it is suicide or a suicide attempt. And, often this is all met with surprise… friends remark that they had “no idea” that he was so sad or the family comments about how she “should’ve reached out for help”.
Why don’t people reach out for help?
Often, we get messages from society and those dear to us to hide our struggle and “put on a pleasant face”. We get the message that there are certain things we don’t share with others, and feelings and difficulties often tops this list, and so we don’t share what is happening on the inside, and we are pretty good at keeping up appearances on the outside. And we continue to fall for the incorrect message that depression is a weakness which often forces the person into shame, denial, and secrecy.
As I mentioned before, depression happens to people in all walks of society. Depression sometimes follows a loss of some sort- the loss of a relationship, the loss of a job, the loss of status/health/finances, and depression can also be something that reoccurs throughout an individual's life, sometimes when the individual least expects it. Also, depression often occurs at times of change, like when we move from high school to adulthood, have a change in careers, the birth of a child, at midlife, after retirement, etc.
The risk with high-functioning depression is that these individuals do not reach out for support and, because the struggle is often well-hidden, those around the person do not even know that something is wrong, so they don’t know that help is needed. Fortunately, there seems to be more coverage of mental health issues, including depression, in the media, with many popular celebrity figures breaking their silence and sharing publicly about their struggle with depression. And, of course, we have seen many well-known figures die from suicide after living with depression, substance use, and other difficulties. So the risk of death by suicide is real and the reason to be concerned is valid. We must end our silence and break our habit of not asking the difficult questions when we notice someone in the midst of a struggle or when we notice that something seems “off” in a friend, because when you are in the throes of depression it is hard to start the conversation on your own.
So, if you have depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, or any other mental health disorder, you are not alone… although it may feel that way. Please reach out to someone- a friend or family member, a local crisis line, support group, or therapist. And, if you have someone you are concerned about, offer your support… stop by for a visit, make a phone call, sit with them so they know they are not alone.
For someone to talk to in Colorado, call the Colorado Crisis Services at 1-844-493-8255 or text TALK to 38255. For individual psychotherapy appointments, you can find many great therapists on the PsychologyToday website or contact me at 720-924-1155.