I saw an article recently on upworthy called “The danger of high-functioning depression as told by a college student.” It’s about how having high-functioning depression may be more dangerous than non-functioning depression because the people around you don’t know you have it. Since you’re good at pushing on and putting on a cheerful face, you can be on the verge of suicide without giving off any of the signs most people go by to tell if someone is at risk. And my brain went, “ah, there’s a name for it,” and “I have high-functioning depression.”
Before I go further, let me say: Don’t worry. I am not at risk of suicide. Honestly, it’s not a path I can take.
But I am very good at hiding my depression. I imagine that if I told any of my coworkers or over half of my relatives that I regularly struggle with depression, they would laugh and say, “Yeah, right.” I joke a lot, I smile a lot, and I am always running somewhere and doing something. Depressed people don’t act like that.
Wrong. Some depressed people don’t act like that. Some depressed people act even more like that the more depressed they are. They crack jokes because it’s a habit. Because if they don’t laugh, they’ll cry. Because it’s easier to hide the pain behind a distracting joke than when talking about something serious. They keep busy because when they stop, they crumble. Because if they keep busy, they don’t have to think about everything that scares them or depresses them.
I read the article and the lack of symptoms, and I understood why the psychiatrist would be afraid because the 16 year old was horribly depressed but had a 4.0 and was very active (AKA she had high-functioning depression). It’s because those are the suicides that no one sees coming.
It made me start thinking about everyone I’ve lost to suicide. What they were like before and whether we had any warning. The result was frightening. Of the 6 friends and acquaintances I’ve lost to suicide in the last few years, over half of them were always smiling and joking. And when I got the news, I was surprised. They always seemed so happy. For some, their lives were improving or headed in a good direction at the time.
That’s why I know how people around me would react to finding out I’m depressed. I’ve been on the other side. I’ve seen the happy exteriors. I can’t blame them for sneering at the idea of someone who’s always moving and smiling being depressed or suicidal.
I don’t know if there’s a point to this article except to warn you to look deeper. Even if someone’s always joking or busy, don’t automatically assume they’re happy. They might have high-functioning depression and feel worse than you could ever have realized. Ask them if they’re ok. Ask them how they’re feeling. Ask how things are going really.
It’s not about hounding them. It’s about being kind and showing them that you care. Showing them that they matter to you. You’d be amazed at the difference that can make. It’s also about letting them know that they can talk to you and trust you. You see, all depression tends to be secretive. High-functioning depression is even worse about hiding itself. You can’t force anyone to tell you, but letting them know that you’re there to listen and that they can trust you goes a long way to encouraging people to talk to you and share their troubles.
Even though I have high functioning depression, that’s all I can think of. Can anyone else think of a way to know that someone has high-functioning depression? Or some way to help them?