Breaking the stigma: Embracing high-functioning depression

In recent years, there's been a growing recognition and understanding of mental health issues, leading to increased conversations and efforts to break the stigma surrounding them. While conditions like anxiety and depression have gained significant attention, there is one particular form of depression that often goes unnoticed and misunderstood: high-functioning depression.


In this article, we'll explore what high-functioning depression is, debunk some common misconceptions, and shed light on the importance of embracing and supporting those who experience it.

What is high-functioning depression?

High-functioning depression, also sometimes known as persistent depressive disorder or dysthymia, is a subtype of depression characterised by persistent feelings of sadness, low mood, and a general lack of interest or pleasure in life. What sets high-functioning depression apart is that individuals experiencing it can often maintain a semblance of normalcy in their daily lives. They continue to meet responsibilities, excel at work, and engage in social activities, masking their inner struggles behind a facade of productivity.

One of the biggest misconceptions about high-functioning depression is that individuals suffering from it are simply 'sad' or 'down' and that they should be able to snap out of it if they try harder or have a more positive attitude. This harmful assumption fails to acknowledge the complex nature of depression and the fact that it is not a matter of willpower or a temporary emotional state.

High-functioning depression is a chronic condition that affects individuals on a deeper level, often leading to feelings of emptiness, hopelessness, and a constant struggle to find meaning in life.

Another misconception is that because individuals with high-functioning depression can keep up with their daily obligations, they don't require support or treatment. On the contrary, maintaining a high level of functionality can be both a blessing and a curse. While it allows individuals to navigate their professional and personal lives with relative success, it also means they are less likely to seek help or be recognised as struggling. This can lead to their condition going unnoticed, causing prolonged suffering and potentially worsening symptoms.

How to break the stigma

Breaking the stigma surrounding high-functioning depression starts with education and understanding. It is essential to recognise that depression can manifest differently in different individuals, and just because someone appears to have it all together on the outside does not mean they are not silently battling their inner demons. We must create a safe and non-judgmental environment where people feel comfortable opening up about their mental health struggles, even if they seem 'high-functioning' in other areas.

Support systems play a vital role in helping individuals with high-functioning depression. Friends, family, and colleagues can actively listen, validate their experiences, and offer empathy and understanding. Reminding ourselves that mental health conditions are not weaknesses is crucial, and seeking help is a sign of strength, resilience, and self-care. Encouraging professional help, such as therapy or counselling, can provide individuals with the necessary tools to manage their symptoms and develop healthy coping strategies.

Additionally, workplaces are responsible for creating a culture that promotes mental well-being. Companies can offer employee assistance programmes (EAPs) and mental health resources and destigmatise taking time off for mental health reasons. By prioritising mental health in the workplace, organisations foster a supportive environment that encourages open conversations and reduces the pressure to maintain a facade of productivity at the expense of one's mental well-being.

Breaking the stigma surrounding high-functioning depression requires a collective effort. It starts with each individual acknowledging the validity of this condition and being compassionate and understanding towards those who may be silently struggling. By fostering a culture of acceptance, empathy, and support, we can empower individuals with high-functioning depression to seek help, cultivate resilience, and find their path towards healing and well-being.

Can counselling help people with high-functioning depression?

Counselling can be incredibly beneficial for individuals struggling with high-functioning depression. While high-functioning depression may not always be immediately apparent to others, it doesn't diminish the intensity of individuals' internal struggles. Counselling provides a safe and supportive space for individuals to explore their emotions, thoughts, and experiences and work towards healing and growth.

Here are some ways in which counselling can help people struggling with high-functioning depression:

Validation and understanding

One of the most significant benefits of counselling is that it offers validation and understanding. People with high-functioning depression often feel isolated and misunderstood because their outward appearance may not match their internal emotional state. In therapy, individuals can express their true feelings without judgment and receive validation for their experiences. This validation helps to normalise their struggles and reduce self-blame or shame.

Identifying and processing emotions

Counselling allows individuals to explore and identify the complex emotions associated with high-functioning depression. Oftentimes, individuals with high-functioning depression suppress their emotions or dismiss them as insignificant. Therapy helps individuals develop emotional awareness and provides them with tools to identify, understand, and process their emotions healthily and constructively.

Developing coping strategies

Counselling equips individuals with high-functioning depression with effective coping strategies to manage their symptoms. Therapists can teach individuals various techniques, such as mindfulness, relaxation exercises, and cognitive restructuring, which help individuals regulate their emotions, challenge negative thought patterns, and develop healthier coping mechanisms.

Uncovering underlying issues

High-functioning depression can result from various underlying factors, such as past trauma, unresolved grief, or relationship difficulties. Counselling provides a safe environment for individuals to explore these underlying issues and gain insights into how they may contribute to their depression. By uncovering and addressing these root causes, individuals can work towards long-term healing and personal growth.

Building resilience and self-care

Therapy helps individuals develop resilience and self-care practices. Through counselling, individuals can learn to set healthy boundaries, prioritise self-care activities, and develop strategies to manage stress. Therapists can also assist individuals in identifying and nurturing their strengths and building a support network to enhance their overall well-being.

Providing a non-judgemental space

Counselling offers a non-judgmental and confidential space where individuals can openly express their thoughts and feelings. This can be particularly helpful for individuals with high-functioning depression who may feel pressured to maintain a facade of productivity or fear being perceived as weak or incapable. The therapeutic relationship allows individuals to be vulnerable and authentic, facilitating healing and personal growth.

It's important to note that counselling approaches may vary based on the individual's needs and preferences. Some individuals may benefit from cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to address negative thought patterns. In contrast, others may find person-centred therapy or psychodynamic therapy more suitable for exploring deeper emotions and experiences. The therapeutic process is highly individualised, and therapists work collaboratively with their clients to determine the most effective approach.

Overall, counselling provides a valuable space for individuals with high-functioning depression to be seen, heard, and supported. It can empower individuals to develop resilience, better understand themselves, and navigate their struggles more effectively. By seeking help through counselling, individuals can embark on a journey of healing, growth, and improved mental well-being.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Wantage OX12 & Rickmansworth WD3
Written by Hope Therapy & Counselling Services, Offering Counselling, CBT, Hypnotherapy, EMDR & Mindfulness.
Wantage OX12 & Rickmansworth WD3

Driven by a vision to create a safe and nurturing space for individuals seeking support, Hope Therapy & Counselling Services was born. A handpicked team of skilled and highly compassionate counsellors with a shared commitment to helping others. Together, they work collaboratively to provide comprehensive, tailor-made counselling support.

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