High-Functional and Depressed

We were sitting on the floor of her tiny dorm room, painting our nails, gossiping about celebrities, and complaining about our classes when she opened up to me. In a casual tone that I only grew to realize must have taken her considerable effort much later, she spoke of her depression. For someone who is deeply interested in the issue of mental health and has always considered herself well versed in talking about mental illnesses, I was shockingly at a loss of words.

What took me off guard was the fact that she never struck me as someone suffering from depression. She was doing well academically, was actively involved in various clubs on campus, and was loved by everyone for her hilarious and easygoing personality.

What I soon learned was that depression, like all other diseases, can take different forms in each individual. We often put depression into a box of symptoms: feeling of hopelessness, fatigue, lack of motivation, lack of appetite, and withdrawal from society. During orientation sessions about mental health at college, we are told to look out for roommates and friends who seem to be sleeping too much, crying, and missing too many classes.

But what remains unknown to many people is that these are not the only defining signs of depression. Individuals diagnosed with ‘persistent depressive disorder’ experience lower-level symptoms that allow them to be high functioning. They can engage productively in classes, activities, and friends. Thus the depression often goes unnoticed by others and sometimes by the affected individuals themselves. The cumulative negative pressure of persistent depressive disorder, however, can be just as significant and debilitating as that of a major depressive disorder.

Harvard attracts the brightest and the best students from all over the world. In some sense, this means that it is a meeting place of overachievers and perfectionists. It is a place where sleep deprivation and unmitigated drive are glorified. But what we often fail to recognize is that these people can also be suffering from depression.

“If we keep allowing our perception of what mental illness looks like to dictate how we go about recognizing and treating it, we will continue to overlook people who don’t fit the mold” – Amanda Leventhal

While the stigma towards mental illnesses – specifically depression and anxiety – has undoubtedly decreased especially in the recent years, we as a society still lack the comprehensive understanding of the complexities and diversity of the illnesses.!

By EJ Kim '19 | Staff Writer

For more information on persistent and high-functioning depression, check out this great article on themighty.com: https://themighty.com/2016/05/high-functioning-depression-we-cant-overlook-the-overachievers/