Depression is one of those disorders that, like many, is completely misunderstood.
Just think about all the different people you speak to each day: friends, colleagues or even coffee shop baristas. They smile and chat about their weekend plans.
Now imagine that on the inside, they’re experiencing crippling headaches, loneliness and persistent negative thoughts. Their energy is so low it was almost impossible for them to pull themselves out of bed this morning. But you’d never know it.
This what it’s like for people who live with chronic depression ― a high-functioning variation of the disease. Like major depression, high-functioning depression can cause decreased or increased appetite, insomnia and emotional ups and downs. But it’s a lot harder to identify.
It’s no secret that I advocate talking about mental illness, and previously I’ve spoken mainly about anxiety. But I strongly believe it’s imperative to discuss depression, especially with regards to relationships. Never has it been more important to learn, understand and ultimately support those we love who live with it.
Knowledge is power
Education about mental health issues helps people who don’t experience them understand the disorders a little bit better. And in a world where only 25% of people with mental illness feel like others are sympathetic to their condition, compassion can go a long way.
In terms of high-functioning depression, it is the Type A personality that most often suffers, according to psychiatrist Tim Cantopher. In his book Depressive Illness: The Curse of the Strong, he says that, more often than not, the person who has a breakdown “is the last person you would expect to have a breakdown.”
A Type A person can be an overachieving perfectionist, who feels that showing anyone any kind of weakness isn’t an option. Cantopher also writes that anyone who has mental illness is “wrong in thinking you are weak and that you should be ashamed to have contracted this illness” because “you have got it because you are too strong.”
Experts say the condition often isn’t noticeable to most people, because those who experience it tend to mask it well. This arguably makes the disorder difficult for partners to detect and the people who deal with it hesitant to speak up in the first place.
The symptoms are aligned with those of depression, including irritability and extreme sadness. But the average observer wouldn’t necessarily know it based on how the sufferer is acting. People suffering from depression can get up and work jobs and have a social life too. What should we look for in a secretly depressed loved one?
1. Become easily angry
When we think about depression, we think about people being exceptionally sad, but that’s not the only way depression manifests. You also see anger bubble up to the surface in violent and surprising ways.
2. Small things freak them out
Along with anger, you would be surprised at how hard they lash out over nothing. For example, they can’t find their comb, so they explode, tear apart the bathroom, and then become hard on themselves when it was found somewhere obvious.
3. They don’t care anymore
One clear sign of depression is playing it fast and loose, and living incredibly recklessly. They may break things, they just don’t care, and engage in dangerous activities due to a lack of caring.
4. They self-medicate and abuse drugs
Depression can be a difficult thing from which to escape. Many people, fearing the stigma associated with depression, don’t even try to get medication. Instead, they turn to drugs and alcohol to help alleviate some of the pain they experience.
5. They can’t let things go
Often times, people who are depressed feel like things are out of their control, and they react to this in one of two ways; by withdrawing, or by obsessively trying to control minute aspects of life. A sure sign of secret depression is not letting things go.
So what can you do?
What you have to remember, is that your partner can’t turn their depression on/off. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Sometimes it takes more effort and motivation to do the things which seem otherwise normal.
There is no explanation and it’s not anyone’s fault, and there is little control over the depression affecting your partner.
You’re not doing anything wrong and your support is so important.
All in all, don’t give up on someone with high-functioning depression. Your support and love means everything.
I understand this is an incredibly subjective and sensitive topic: if you need further advice, please don’t hesitate to get in contact, or speak to your local GP.