Digging Deeper
with Alisha​

Functioning While Depressed

You have likely heard of Major Depressive Disorder, commonly referred to as simply “depression,” and have a generic understanding of what it means to be “depressed,” severe sadness, non-stop crying, lying in the bed all day with the curtains drawn, unable to function, in need of medication, etc. However, what if I told you that depression exists on a spectrum and that not all depressive states look equally dismal or fit the criteria for Major Depressive Disorder? 

When it comes to depression one size does not fit all and more than likely at some point in your life, you too have felt less than best or “depressed.”  While clinical depression (Major Depressive Disorder) is defined and diagnosed by specific measurements; functioning while feeling depressed typically goes unnoticed because the individual appears to be operating as normal. 

Right now, someone that you know, possibly you, is currently suffering in silence, too afraid or ashamed to admit how they truly feel to their loved ones. On the surface they appear to be living life as usual, successful in their careers, maintaining social interactions and from the outside looking in, life looks pretty good. How does one admit that amidst their seemingly perfect life they are sad or that they are struggling with defeating thoughts? Too often they simply don’t.

Various studies suggest that depression affects 1 in 20 people on average; but as a licensed therapist I treat functionally depressed individuals on a daily basis and believe the numbers to be drastically higher than reported. Symptoms are often overlooked or mistaken, even by those experiencing the depressive state of mind themselves.  It is because symptoms vary in severity that many are shocked to discover that their loved ones were suffering at all. Too often a discovery of depression only takes place after an emotional break down, suicide attempt or unfortunate completion. Friends and family are left scrambling for missing pieces, wondering what they missed and how long their loved one suffered in silence.

Depression can be a silent monster that haunts individuals within and masks the inflicted pain with daily operation and seemingly normal behavior. Just because an individual goes to work daily, attends happy hour with friends and presents regularly to Sunday morning service, does not mean that they are not battling with inner turmoil or self doubt. 

Due to the personal nature of symptoms associated with depression it is common for individuals to hide these symptoms from others and deny them within themselves.

Often overlooked symptoms include:

    • Changes in appetite
    • Loss of energy
    • Loss of interest in things typically enjoyed
    • Poor concentration

We typically ask friends and co-workers “How are you?” but rarely ask them how did they rest or if they are eating regularly; because it is considered invasive or rude to inquire about personal affects, we often miss subtle symptoms. Unless we are asking the right questions or looking for the less blatant signs, functional depression thrives in the crevices of privacy 

Many individuals would rather suffer alone than to admit that their lives are currently less than favorable, especially when life seems so perfect from the outside looking in. The irony of masking functional depression is that although the individual is actively trying to keep their emotional state hidden, when their sadness is not readily observed by those closest to them they can begin to feel unnoticed, misunderstood or unseen and ultimately their sadness increases as a result of their silence.

Though medication can be useful when battling major depression, it is not always necessary when dealing with functional depression. The key to relieving depression is to first identify the root cause of the problem; a process that is most likely to happen during talk therapy with a professional.  If you or someone that you know are experiencing symptoms of depression, help is available! One of the first things to do is acknowledge changes in behavior.  Notable changes in daily habits such as eating, sleeping and hygiene are the easiest to spot. If you find yourself doing either of these things significantly more OR less, it’s important to make note.  Secondly, seek consultation from a mental health professional in your community.  There are help lines and support groups nationwide available to assist; familiarize yourself with local resources and share them with those you love.

Therapy is an effective method to deal with inner turmoil and though the process of counseling might be uncomfortable and unfamiliar, it can also be empowering and offer genuine relief. Once one has regained control of their life and rediscovered peace through insight and awareness, they are likely to discover that the journey of therapy was worth every bit of the discomfort.

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