In our modern world with all of our social connectedness, it’s easy to compare ourselves to others. We may compare our appearance, our accomplishments, our wealth and even our mental health.

If you’ve ever held your experience with depression side-by-side with someone else and wondered why your mental health history looks so different, you may be struggling with a more rare disorder, often called high-functioning depression.

What is high-functioning depression?

High-functioning depression is a colloquial term for dysthymia, or persistent depressive disorder. This mental health condition is a mild, but long-term form of depression designated by the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

What are symptoms of high-functioning depression?

The DSM lists the following symptom criteria necessary for a formal diagnosis.

  • A depressed mood for most of the day, for the majority of days
  • This depressed pattern continues for at least two years
  • Depressed mood is accompanied by two or more of the following
    • Poor appetite or overeating
    • Sleep problems
    • Fatigue
    • Hopelessness
    • Low self-esteem
    • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Symptoms of depression have not been absent for more than a two month stretch
  • The behavior in not better explained by another disorder (like bipolar disorder), a medical condition or substance use
  • The disorder causes functional interference

A clinician will use the above symptoms to determine whether a diagnosis is appropriate. See if you can identify the previously mentioned signs in your own life. They may manifest in the following signs of high-functioning depression:

  • Sleepiness
  • Loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyable
  • Decrease in desire to spend time with loved ones
  • Feeling irritable, frustrated or angry
  • Failure to complete tasks at work due to a low energy level or motivation
  • Increasingly avoiding social commitments
  • Ruminating on the past
  • Feeling like life is meaningless
  • Disliking your own appearance or personality
  • Falling into numbing behaviors like binging shows, mindless scrolling on social media and trying to tune out
  • Feeling inadequate
  • Withdrawing from dating relationships

If you have noticed these behaviors in yourself or another, it’s possible that dysthymia is the cause.

Why do I have high-functioning depression?

High-functioning depression is no different from other depressive disorders in its origin. A combination of environmental and hereditary factors are at play in the onset of this mental health disorder. 

According to Mayo Clinic, brain chemistry is one of the key factors in mood regulation which is why medications (which reverse the effect of some brain neurotransmitters) can influence mood in a positive direction for someone who has persistent depressive disorder. 

This disorder also tends to show up more in individuals whose blood relatives are also affected. If your family has a history of dysthymia and you’ve been feeling depressed, it’s worth getting a second opinion to see if your symptoms warrant a diagnosis.

What should I do about high-functioning depression?

Many people who struggle with high-functioning depression wonder how they can fix it, especially since it’s been impacting them for such a long period of time. While some individuals may need a mild level of life-long treatment, engaging in professional intervention for dysthymia can help you lead a full and normal life.


The first line of treatment for all mental health conditions is psychotherapy, or talk-therapy. This form of treatment can help address the most pressing issues that come along with a depressive disorder. 

In psychotherapy you’ll learn to — regulate your emotions, manage triggers to depression, accept help, grow in self-awareness and self-compassion and adjust your thinking patterns from being destructive to affirming.

Lifestyle changes

Because high-functioning depression is a milder form of depression, many of your worst symptoms can be handled by changing certain lifestyle patterns. Changing jobs, finding a new living situation, mending or ending relationships and finding meaningful activities can have a real impact on your mood.


There are various medications that can decrease feelings of depression, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, tricyclic antidepressants and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors. 

A psychiatrist can help you find the right medication for your needs and will work with you if the initial prescription results in uncomfortable side effects or doesn’t alleviate your symptoms. Finding the right medication may take time, but it can be instrumental to feeling like yourself again.

Support groups

Sometimes people with high-functioning depression need a very low-stakes form of intervention that can be found in a support group. These groups are typically peer-led and meet weekly or bi-weekly. 

Individuals who deal with depression on a long-term basis find that others who have been in the same situation can share useful tips and tools for coping through this unique lifestyle. Moreover, normalizing dysthymia can offer a sense of peace for those who may feel alone in their struggles.

Decreasing stress

There is a strong link between depression and stress, and stress can be the most powerful trigger to upticks in a depressed mood. One way to keep high-functioning depression in check is to decrease stress through self-care.

Self-care practices can include anything from exercising to cooking and are aimed at grounding you in the moment so you can relax and build a foundation of calmness and focus. Self-care helps you to slow your heart rate and unwind from all of life’s craziness.

High-functioning depression and recovery

Struggling with depression can affect all areas of life, and it’s all too common for mental health disorders to lead to or contribute to substance use. If long-term depression has impacted your chances of recovery, there’s hope for healing both conditions.

Silvermist Recovery can give you the shot you need to heal from mental illness and addiction. Silvermist provides whole-person healing with unique treatment catered to your personal needs. Get in touch today to find your freedom.