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Imagine a person with a 4.0 GPA, a schedule filled with pre-AP and AP classes. Imagine they are a member of many extracurricular, religious, and social groups. Everything about their life looks perfect. They are popular, charming, and achieving a lot.

Now imagine that person confides in you that they are depressed.

Those two images don’t jive with each other, do they? That’s because even though we have all heard that mental illness comes in many shapes and sizes, we still have a picture in our heads of what it’s supposed to look like. If I told you to imagine a despondent person whose grades are plummeting and is avoiding all human interaction, you would be far more able to believe that person is suffering from depression.

When we limit our idea of mental illness, individuals who are at a high risk can easily slip through the cracks. Psychiatrists see more high-functioning depressives commit suicide than those whose problems are more obvious.

While on the surface it may seem that the individual is bravely pushing through their illness, the inner turmoil is far grislier than most realise. The danger lies in a high-functioning depressive putting off getting help, even though they know something is off.

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Depression is a difficult and debilitating condition, even for those people who appear not to be affected. Here are four signs of a high functioning depressive:

1.Being too tough on themselves.

High-functioning depressives are often over-achievers. This is due in part to the fact that they expect A LOT of themselves. This can easily look like an admirable quality to people around, but this quality can push the individual into and unhealthy territory where they are constantly beating themselves up for perceivably falling short.

2. Work sucks

When an individual is constantly self-criticising, it can impact their workflow. Instead of finding a rhythm in their job, their daily tasks can feel Sisyphean. They may manage to get the boulder to the top of the hill because they expect nothing less of themselves, but not without a great deal of pain.

3. Substance Abuse

It is not a coincidence that many high-functioning substance abusers are also high-functioning depressives. These depressives often use alcohol, or pills as a coping mechanism. For family members or friends, it is incredibly difficult to approach their loved one about their problem when they aren’t showing typical symptoms of a ‘junkie’.

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4. Keeping busy all the time

Enough is never enough for high-function depressives. Even though they are always accomplishing something, they struggle with feeling like they are wasting time. This the lead to feelings of hopelessness, and thoughts that they would be better off or more appreciated if they were dead. Finding new hobbies or filling their lives with new activities offers no comfort to these people because they are not wasting time but actually suffering from anhedonia. (Anhedonia is one of the main symptoms of a major depressive disorder (MDD). It is the loss of interest in previously rewarding or enjoyable activities.)

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These are common symptoms, but certainly not all symptoms that you might find in a high-functioning depressive. If you have a loved one experiencing a high-functioning form of depression, here are some things you can do to support them.

  • Check in on them. Support them and remind them that they aren’t alone.
  • Offer small gestures. A little goes a long way, and doing something – even something simple – for your loved one can make a huge difference.
  • Encourage them to seek treatment. Treatment works, and high functioning depressives may find enjoyment in the self-discovery process that comes with therapy.

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