(TW: discussion of depression.)
Recently, as I scrolled my way through Facebook, I noticed a headline, from The Huffington Post, reading, “Why We Need To Talk About High-Functioning Depression.”
My first thought, as might be the case with a great number of readers, was “What’s high-functioning depression?”
This article briefly describes the story of a student at the University of Missouri, Amanda Leventhal. Author Emily Laurence writes that “she’s not someone many would characterize as ‘depressed.’ And yet, she is.”
If you can relate to me at all, you may understand feeling extremely sad sometimes, but not feeling “bad enough” to call yourself depressed. It’s not like I want to be depressed, at all, because feeling depressed is awful and sucky and miserable. But after reading this article, it feels sort of validating to have a more appropriate name for what I’m feeling.
Emily Laurence defines high-functioning depression as “when someone seems to have it all together on the outside, but on the inside, they are severely sad.”
Laurence also includes commentary, on the topic of high-functioning depression, from Carol Landau, a PhD and psychiatry professor at Brown University. Landau says that she observes high-functioning depression often “in women with a penchant for perfectionism – aka the same people who are likely your colleagues and friends with enviable lives and a long list of personal achievements.”
When I read this article, the buzzer went off in my head as I noticed the mention of perfectionism. Believe me, I am more than familiar with this bothersome desire to be perfect. It can often get in the way of me feeling happy, and of me remembering what a good life I have. My life, as a whole, definitely is not depressing at all, but yet sometimes I still feel really depressed.
I’m a person who’s had a fortunate and privileged life. I’ve been really lucky to grow up with such amazing family and friends. I guess, and I certainly hope, that I seem like someone who’s been successful in my life, and who’s achieved a lot so far. While I’m so grateful for this, it’s resulted in me feeling “wrong” for feeling depressed.
Carol Landau also says that this (high-functioning depression) is “typical for women.”
“We’re still striving to be caregivers,” she says, “and part of that is not admitting we need help.” To me, part of subconsciously striving for perfection includes seeing asking for help as a weakness.
Reading this article about high-functioning depression has made me feel a little bit less confused and concerned. It’s refreshing to be able to have a label for my feelings and to know that this is not an uncommon phenomenon. As cliché as it may sound, I’m not alone.
Emily Laurence describes how “antidepressant ads and pop-culture portrayals of depression often paint the same picture: withdrawal from friends or favorite activities, trouble sleeping, and crying.” What’s so important to keep in mind, however, is her point that “there are many faces of depression.”
In the case of Amanda Leventhal, she didn’t identify with the women in these commercials. “For me, it was irritability,” she said. According to Landau, “You might have a friend who is cranky all the time, or who people think of as a ‘bitch,’ but inwardly that person is really struggling.”
We all are familiar with the stats on how rampant anxiety and depression can be on college campuses. I think that uncovering this definition of high-functioning depression, that, until recently, I never knew existed, is really important for college students. Hopefully, widening the spectrum of depression will reassure students who may feel that I do, depressed, but not “enough” to be depressed. You don’t need to “fit the bill” of television-ad depression to deserve support, care, and love. No one should ever have to feel like they’re not good enough, especially not good enough to deserve love and support.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline