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When you meet someone for the first time, you’re normally taking note of the color of their eyes and their facial expressions as they talk. Even though mental health is a large component of who a person is, a mental health disorder is not something that’s always easy to perceive in a stranger or acquaintance.

In the U.S., 1 in 5 people live with a mental health disorder. Depression in particular affects more than 17 million U.S. adults. But many people with major depressive disorder are able to hide their symptoms from others. They may also not be affected by their disorder on a day-to-day basis. If someone has high-functioning depression, that doesn’t make their struggles any less valid.

We’ll talk about what it means to have high-functioning depression. We’ll also compare symptoms of high-functioning depression to major depressive disorder. Then we’ll cover potential treatment options.

What is high-functioning depression?

It’s important to start off by saying that high-functioning depression isn’t a clinical diagnosis. It’s not referenced in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, known as DSM-5. It’s officially known as persistent depressive disorder, or PDD.

High-functioning depression is also called “smiling depression.” It’s a common term that means the symptoms of depression aren’t apparent or don’t interfere with a person’s everyday life. A mental health provider will likely determine a person who describes themselves as having high-functioning depression as having persistent depressive disorder. It’s formerly known as dysthymia, and is essentially mild to moderate depression.

PDD doesn’t just mean that the symptoms are often easier to manage. It can also mean that the individual is actively trying to suppress them from others.

Comparing signs of high-functioning depression to major depressive disorder

Depression is the common term used for major depressive disorder. It’s a mood disorder that causes overwhelming negative thoughts and emotions. People with depression can struggle to carry out their daily responsibilities. They can also have a hard time maintaining healthy relationships with those around them.

Even though the symptoms of high-functioning depression, or PDD, aren’t as severe as those with major depressive disorder, they can still be long lasting. The biggest difference between persistent depressive disorder and major depressive disorder is how long the episodes last. Major depressive disorder episodes are often spaced out by at least two months. People with persistent depressive disorder experience symptoms for two or more years at a time.

It’s important to remember that MDD and PDD have the same symptoms. But the symptoms are muted in high-functioning cases.

The symptoms include:

  • Constant feelings of sadness and hopelessness.
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies.
  • Concentration or decision-making issues.
  • Insomnia.
  • Fatigue.

There are some behaviors that can stem from persistent depressive disorder, such as:

  • Physical symptoms from trying to suppress your mental and emotional distress.
  • Self-medication through substances to avoid formal depression treatment.
  • Putting immense effort into daily tasks to fight against the depression symptoms.

How to treat high-functioning depression

Even if people with persistent depressive disorder are able to handle their day-to-day tasks and maintain interpersonal connections, they still deserve support and resources to alleviate their symptoms. Mild depression is still depression. That’s why it’s important to explore potential treatment options to improve your overall quality of life.

A person with any level of depression can benefit from psychotherapy. A licensed clinical therapist can help you move along your mental health journey by helping you find the root of your depression. They’ll also help you develop cognitive skills and coping mechanisms to manage the symptoms. At Active Path Mental Health, we use short-term cognitive behavioral therapy. It focuses on changing how your thoughts, emotions and behaviors affect one another.

If you have persistent depressive disorder, you may have tried to treat the symptoms in the past. It’s possible to have treatment-resistant depression, which means that the symptoms haven’t been affected after at least two trials of antidepressants. Treatment-resistant depression can be helped with transcranial magnetic stimulation. This neurostimulation therapy involves magnetic pulses that stimulate cell activity in areas of the brain that are involved with mood regulation.

Active Path Mental Health can help you with high-functioning depression

Every person living with a mental health disorder deserves treatment, regardless of the severity. If you have persistent depressive disorder, you don’t need to just “smile” through it every day. At Active Path Mental Health, our therapy and TMS services can help reduce your symptoms and improve your overall quality of life.

Contact our team today for more information or to schedule an initial appointment.

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