Amanda Leventhal who is an undergraduate student at the University of Missouri has recently explained in an article how depression is underdiagnosed and overlooked in high functioning individuals. Her article has inspired a host of online discussions regarding the complex nature of depression and why it is so important to talk about this epidemic problem. Even in today’s societies, the causes of depression remain unknown and mental disorders such as manic-depression (bipolar disorder) are still unfairly stigmatized making mental health still a taboo topic that needs to be clarified and brought to light.
What is Depression?
Most guidelines today define depression as a mental disorder marked by low mood, aversion to activity and that also affects a person’s thoughts, behavior, and well-being. The exact causes of depression are unknown but possible triggers are stress, trauma, low self-esteem, chemical imbalances in the brain, prolonged illness, loneliness, and lack of light. Brain scans of depressed persons show that certain regions of the brain such as the frontal and temporal cortex, the insula, and the cerebellum are hypoactive. Furthermore, a growing number of studies have found a link between illness-caused inflammation and the development of depressive symptoms. What this means is that depression can no longer be considered an invisible illness but a very much palpable disorder that definitely requires treatment.
Depression in High-Functioning Individuals
Depression, just like the majority of all illnesses manifests with many symptoms. The most common symptoms of depression are low mood, apathy, a lack of motivation, troubles concentrating, problems with memory, sleepdisturbances, etc. The symptoms of depression tend to affect almost every aspect of a person’s life making this illness quite debilitating. An article published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry found that 79% of people with depression report that their illness has interfered with their ability to function at work. Since depression is considered a disorder that affects a person’s ability to function in life, we have to wonder if it is possible for people to be high-functioning and depressed at the same time? The short answer is yes as there are different types of depression. According to Harvard Health Publications, there is such a thing called dysthymia which is low-grade depression that lasts five years on average. The disorder is not as crippling as major depression but is a risk factor for episodes of major depression and it is probably under diagnosed in the general population.
The Stigma of Mental Illness and Why It Is a Problem
The stigma of mental illness causes a great deal of suffering and missed opportunities for those afflicted. Unfortunately, the invisibility of mental illness makes it harder for people to emphasize with a person suffering from mental disorders such as schizophrenia, major depression or manic-depression, and many often see the illness as made up or all in their head. The stigma may make it harder for people with mental illness to find employment, housing, and build secure relationships. People struggling with depression are very well aware of the stigma that surrounds mental illness and those going through depression may ignore their symptoms believing they have everything under control. This creates a problem that could lead to depression becoming worse with time and leading to poor health and even suicide if left untreated.
What You Can Do
Knowing the nature of depression can help friends and family recognized atypical symptoms in loved ones. High functioning depressed persons may be better at hiding their symptoms, but behavioral and personality changes are usually good indicators something is going on. Irritability, anger, and a morose attitude is a good sign a person is depressed. Another sign could be increased sleepiness, weight gain, moodiness, and excessive fatigue. Asking the person that you believe is depressed about how they feel may help them understand that their behavior and mood is not normal but a result of depression. We have to understand that depression tends to skew a person’s view of themselves and the world and they may not recognize this as a sign of illness but rather as a normal reaction to a seemingly gloomy reality.
Although we tend to associate depression with low levels of functioning, some people may develop atypical symptoms of depression that can make it harder for them to believe they need help. The problem with mental illnesses such as major depressive disorder and manic-depression is that they often go unrecognized until a person develops severe symptoms that interfere with everyday functioning. The stigma attached to mental illness complicated matters further by making people already struggling with their mental disorder deal with feelings of shame and guilt. The result is often missed opportunities and low quality of life. Recognizing the symptoms of depression even in high-functioning individuals is something we need to take notice of today.