Coping with High Functioning Depression: 4 Things You Can Do to Help Your Loved One
If you know someone coping with high-functioning depression, it’s important for you to take the necessary steps to guide them onto the road to recovery. By remembering to never stop reaching out, understanding their struggle, never shaming them, and setting healthy boundaries, you can help them pave the way to leading a healthier, more fulfilling life.
It can be all too easy to overlook the signs of depression. Many of us tend to assume that it’s an easy disorder to spot—that someone who is depressed will always look as obviously sad as the people depicted in the beginnings of antidepressant commercials. But depression comes in many shapes and sizes, and high-functioning depression, in particular, can be well-camouflaged behind smiles and an apparently cheerful demeanor.
In many cases, these people lead lives that look, from the outside, quite antithetical to the experience of depression we’re used to seeing depicted. They may work hard and be highly successful, and may perhaps even be fostering numerous personal relationships with seemingly strong bonds. But deep down, they are coping—alone—with a deep-seated pain that can slowly wear them down if left unattended.
Most will never reveal this struggle to others voluntarily—at least, not without the help of someone who is willing to reach out, listen, and offer real support. They may worry that they are placing undue strain on others, sharing a burden they feel should be their sole responsibility. They may be embarrassed due to the stigma surrounding depression, or they may worry that, because they have hidden their pain so well, no one will believe that they are truly depressed. They may not even fully recognize it, themselves. Whatever your loved one’s reasons may be for staying silent about their struggle, having someone who can recognize their struggle, reach out to them, and provide them with compassionate support is essential to healing their pain.
1. Reaching Out
High-functioning depression can be a terrible burden to bear. In many ways, depression may be invisible to others, which can put the pressure on the person afflicted to reach out to others and let them know what’s going on. Especially with so much stigma surrounding mental health, this can be extremely difficult. If you know or suspect that your loved one is experiencing this struggle, it’s important to reach out and help to relieve some of the weight on their shoulders. While they may not be ready to open up when you first approach them, even simply knowing that you care and are available to talk to can open the door to hope for recovery. It’s important, too, to continue to check in—not constantly, but regularly—to reassure them of your continued support and love.
This will show them that you care about how they’re feeling, and give them a chance to express themselves. Remind them that they have nothing to be ashamed of and that you have genuine concern for their feelings.
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2. Understanding Their Struggle
It’s tempting to look at someone with high-functioning depression and think, “You don’t look that sick to me.” Be aware that appearances can be deceiving, and that just because your loved one seems to be staying active and always has a smile ready for you doesn’t mean they’re not suffering. Depression is, for many, a lifelong struggle, one that can be especially isolating for those who have perfected the art of hiding it from casual observers.
Mary, a successful businesswoman who was diagnosed with depression in her twenties, explains: “Just because I look like I have it all together doesn’t mean I’m not falling apart inside. Some days are better than others. But the bad days can get scary bad, and the worst thing is knowing that no one cares—because no one knows.”
When discussing their depression, it is important that you actively listen to your loved one and reserve judgment. Do not patronize them or compare their experience to someone else’s—no two people’s experiences of depression look exactly alike. Focus instead on encouraging them to open up—if not to you, then to someone else they can trust—and ask them to consider seeking a professional assessment in the form of diagnostic assessments and psychiatric evaluations to determine if residential treatment is necessary.
3. Avoiding Shame
Depression, in particular, is a mental health disorder which is tied to many harmful myths that belittle or minimize your loved one’s struggle. Do not feed into the shame attached to these stigmas by placing blame or trying to guilt your loved one into acting the way you think they should. Adding to the shame or guilt they may already feel only increases their burden and may cause them to withdraw further, compounding their condition.
Act as a positive influence in their life, not a negative one. Assure them that you care for them regardless of their disorder. Remind them that depression is a disease of the mind, not a personal failing or character flaw—it is nobody’s fault, including theirs—and that treatment is available which can help alleviate their symptoms and help them find better, healthier ways of coping.
4. Setting Boundaries
Being close to someone with depression leaves you open to their pain, especially if you are successful in getting them to open up to you. You might feel helpless, angry, or hurt by how distant they may feel at times, or the fact that you cannot protect them from their pain. This is normal. In fact, this is why individual therapy for loved ones is so crucial for the recovery of your loved one. By ensuring that your own needs are met, especially those connected to coping with their depression, you can help the healing process move forward.
Paving the Way to Recovery
Coping with high-functioning depression is different from trying to take control of it. With comprehensive residential treatment, your loved one can receive a professional diagnosis which can then be used to create a treatment program that integrates the therapies that will be best suited to addressing their unique challenges. In a safe, judgment-free setting, they will learn to replace their need to control and hide their struggle with healthy coping methods that will help them heal and lead a more fulfilling life. Hope is key to recovery, and you can play a vital role in helping your loved one rekindle that hope by providing the care and support they need to take their first steps towards healing.
Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive residential treatment for people struggling with mental health disorders as well as co-occurring substance abuse and eating disorders. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles and San Diego-based programs, and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.