High-Functioning Depression

While not formally recognized as an official diagnosis, the term "high-functioning depression" is frequently used to describe individuals who can conceal their struggles with depression, allowing them to function normally in their daily lives. While they might actively engage in social activities, meet expectations at work, and claim to be fine, they are still grappling with depression inside.

What is High-Functioning Depression?

High-Functioning Depression is also called “smiling depression” due to the person’s ability to function seemingly normally. A person suffering from this “smiling depression” makes an active effort to hide their condition from those around them, putting on a facade of normalcy and hiding behind a smile. A person with high-functioning depression may seem fine, but inside they are experiencing feelings of sadness, hopelessness, inadequacy, guilt, safe-hatred, and/or emptiness.

People with high-functioning depression may hide their condition for many reasons, including:

The Difficulty of Recognizing High-Functioning Depression

A common perception about depression is that for it to be “real,” the depressed person has to be unable to function. They can’t get out of bed, can’t answer the phone, can’t do their work, can’t take care of their appearance, can’t eat… you get the idea. An individual with high-functioning depression does not display these symptoms, making it difficult to spot - even for the person experiencing it. They (and those around them) might think that since they are able to function, there isn’t a problem at all.

Signs of High-Functioning Depression

High-functioning depression can be difficult to spot, but it does have signs. These symptoms can range from mild to severe, and can even come and go. Signs of high-functioning depression include:

What is the Difference Between High-Functioning Depression and “Normal” Depression?

What most people think of as “normal” depression is clinically diagnosed as Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). As a milder but long-lasting form of depression, high-functioning depression is often clinically diagnosed as Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD), or dysthymia. Dysthymia can involve phases of MDD at times, but symptoms of Dysthymia tend to wax and wane depending on the individual’s personal situation. Someone with Dysthymia will not check all the boxes for MDD because of the varied nature of their symptoms. They might do well at work, but avoid social events and act more reserved than normal. The symptoms of MDD are easy to spot because they seem extreme to everyone who knows the person, but Dysthymia is often slow and subtle.

What to Do About High-Functioning Depression

High-functioning depression may not appear to be as severe as major depression, but it still has a heavy impact on an individual’s happiness and wellbeing. Fortunately, just like major depression, it is treatable! If you suspect that you or someone you know is suffering from high-functioning depression, the first step is to consult with a medical doctor or licensed mental health provider. They can screen you for depression and get you on the road to recovery.

High-functioning depression is most commonly treated with talk therapy, and sometimes medication. Self-care is another important way to manage the condition. 

Some self-care routines that can be helpful include:

Therapy for High-Functioning Depression

If you suspect that you or someone you know is suffering from high-functioning depression, getting therapy can make a huge difference. A trained therapist can help you identify and honestly assess your condition and take steps toward a happier, healthier life. Medens Health has a large staff of caring, talented professionals who would love to join you on this journey. Reach out to us by phone or text at (833) 624-5400, send us a message using our online contact form, or get started here.


The information provided in this blog is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Reliance on any information provided in this blog is solely at your own risk. Always seek the advice of your physician or a qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding your medical or mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who is qualified to give you safe, professional, and ethical advice regarding your mental health.

If you or someone you are responsible for is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should call 9-1-1 and/or take them to the nearest emergency room.