8 Signs You Could Have High-Functioning Depression

Updated: Feb. 24, 2021

Just because you're not too sad and listless to get out of bed doesn't mean you may not be depressed. Here's what you need to know about high-functioning depression.

You decline social invitations

High-functioning depression can impact your quality of life, dampening your enthusiasm for work, school, family, and even social activities. A change in social activities can be one of the earliest warning signs. “People with high-functioning depression still go to work and interact with people, but outside of work, they may stop hanging out with friends, and make excuses like ‘work’s been really stressful,'” says Jason Stamper, a doctor of osteopathic medicine and psychiatrist at Mountain Comprehensive Care Center in Pikeville, KY. “They will be somewhat isolative, and this often translates into distance in relationships.” The way you speak may also be telling. These 13 words and phrases could signal depression.

man sitting in bed, head in hand

You have other health issues

This is a two-way street. On one hand, underlying medical conditions may prompt depression. “Co-occurring medical conditions, like diabetes or cancer, cause stress and strain that can lead to depression,” says Michelle Riba, MD, a clinical professor and associate director at the University of Michigan’s Comprehensive Depression Center.  On the other hand, she explains, depression can lower immunity, making you more vulnerable to getting sick. In fact, there are many types of depression you might not realize you could have.

man sleeping face-down on couch

You’re sleeping differently

Whether you can’t nod off as easily, you’re snoozing more than usual, or you’re tossing and turning, sleep problems can warn of possible depression—and it can make your symptoms dramatically worse. “Good sleep is key to good mental health,” says Carol Landau, PhD, a clinical professor of psychiatry and medicine at Brown University in Rhode Island. If you’re not sure exactly what your symptoms mean, here are ways to determine if you have clinical depression or just everyday sadness.

woman biting fingernail, looking anxious

You’re worried or anxious

You may be so quick to equate depression with sadness that you overlook another strongly linked emotion: anxiety. Contrary to what many people think, it’s not just about fearful feelings. In fact, Dr. Stamper says it can manifest itself in multiple ways. Therefore, you might experience mental restlessness, confusion, and that feeling of having a “pit in your stomach.” If you’re unsure, here’s how to tell the difference between anxiety and depression.

man playing a video game with controller in hand

You’re relying more on your vices of choice

If you have high-functioning anxiety, you may attempt to offset feelings with a detrimental emotional crutch. Examples include drinking more alcohol than usual, taking drugs, eating more food, or playing video games more than normal. “If you’re feeling sad or lonely or otherwise ‘off,’ you may drink more wine more often to cover it up,” Landau says. And that’s not good; here’s what experts have to say if you’re drinking too much alcohol (here’s what qualifies as “too much” alcohol). “This kind of self-medicating is especially troubling because substance abuse adds an extra layer of care that you need.” In addition to being addictive, drugs and alcohol especially can exacerbate symptoms of depression, anxiety, and sleep problems, further hindering people’s abilities to cope. Read why low-grade depression is on the rise.

man working on a computer

You’re a successful, type A personality

High-functioning depression can affect affluent, educated people. Wealth and education are not necessarily synonymous with a stress-free, joy-filled life. “The paradox of high-functioning depression is that these are very often people who are educated and have important jobs,”  Stamper says. “They have the benefit of education and status, yet often their careers can be huge stressors.” In fact, spending too much time at work is one of the everyday habits that could up your risk for depression.

couple on couch, man holding upset woman's arm

You’re pretty grouchy

Irritability can be another common symptom of high-functioning depression, according to Landau. More subtle depression symptoms like irritability can be missed when it comes to getting a diagnosis. Here are more depression facts your psychologist wishes you knew.

stressed father in front of computer, daughter in lap kissing him

You have a family history of depression

Awareness of your family background can be helpful in predicting some of your likelihood to develop depression. Experts think that a combination of biology and life experiences can lead to symptoms associated with depression. “Knowing your genetics and family history can be enormously helpful,” says Dr. Riba. Life changes and stress can trigger your biological predisposition to depression. Therefore, knowing your history can help you not only predict but shape your future. Watch out for these warning signs of depression.