Here’s What College Students Wish You Understood About High Functioning Depression

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College students are in a battle with depression, and many are losing the fight.

In fact, today’s college students are more depressed than ever, as one third of students reported being depressed in the last year.

Depression is a disease. It’s a disease that doesn’t play favorites and doesn’t care what important due dates or exams are approaching. Depression is a mental illness that makes school, work, and life in general a difficult rollercoaster ride for many people.

As someone with high functioning depression, I know firsthand how much of a challenge it poses for student success, especially at university level. My high functioning depression was hidden in plain view while I attended college, and it certainly presented a host of additional challenges.

Here’s what myself and other students with high functioning depression want others to realize: these are the trenches we must cross while feeling unarmed and ill-equipped.

The Fear of Flaking Out

In my last Thought Catalog post, I dissected some of the differences between high functioning and low functioning depression:

“A main distinguishing factor is the levels at which a depressed person can go about their lives on a day to day basis and accomplish simple tasks that those without depression wouldn’t think twice about.

Those with high functioning depression usually struggle less with tasks such as getting out of bed, engaging socially, or working. But that doesn’t make high functioning depression less dangerous than low functioning. In this context, depression may be ignored and buried. It lingers in the backdrop of life, and can quietly fester.”

For students with high functioning depression, planning to hang out or socialize with others is not always an easy endeavor. While the fear of missing out is real, the fear of flaking out is something that those with high functioning depression may experience.

The fear of flaking out is a phenomenon where those with high functioning depression opt out of making plans at all, in an attempt to avoid flaking out due to future depressive episodes or slumps. This is dangerous because it can oftentimes lead to isolation, which buries problems associated with depression.

We truly do not want to be flaky, and we want to have healthy friendships and relationships. But sometimes depression gets in the way. Don’t always assume the worst when someone isn’t able to fulfil plans they’ve made. They may actually be suffering a great deal behind the scenes.

Overconsumption and Addiction

Partying, experimenting with drugs and alcohol, and college seemingly go hand in hand.

But when students are offered drugs that temporarily relieve depression and stress, their chances of using drugs and forming a drug dependence are greatly increased. This is a particularly dangerous slope that far too many people with high functioning depression slip down.

For those navigating high functioning depression and addiction simultaneously, getting help for either becomes increasingly challenging.

The first step to addiction recovery is admitting it’s there. This is also true with high functioning depression; the gateway to betterment is through comprehending and accepting the fact that the depression exists. Without doing so, depression gets ignored and buried, and the chances of seeking counseling are much lower.


Most college students procrastinate, especially during freshman year when the feelings of freedom and independence are still fresh. But for those with high functioning depression, procrastination can feel much more hopeless.

Procrastination can take hold when depression gets in the way. Since we must all buckle down and complete assignments in college, some professors don’t think being depressed makes much of a difference to students. All too frequently, people are hesitant to disclose that they are depressed to their instructors, especially if they’ve been shamed about it in the past.

But we must push past these stigmas. We’re not looking for a free pass due to high functioning depression, it’s just that sometimes the disease creates speed bumps. For these reasons, communicating your needs with professors is pivotal to success.

This can be especially difficult for online college students, as a digital education requires much more personal accountability. A list of time management tips for online students spells out some helpful ways to stay on track:

“Create a plan, know your due dates well in advance, check in with professors daily, and use technology and online communication to your advantage.”

While this may be easier said than done, focused planning and organization on top of seeking counseling or other treatment will have tremendous benefits for depression.

Test-Taking and Studying Anxiety

High functioning depression is commonly paired with another mental illness: high functioning anxiety.

For students, high functioning anxiety is rampant during intense study sessions, overwhelming tests, and large scale or group projects. We must recognize that this form of corollary anxiety exists and do our best to conquer it.

Fortunately there are some ways to address this.

When feeling anxious about upcoming finals or a particularly difficult assignment, a playlist for studying may be just what you need. Listening to music with headphones certainly helps block out surrounding anxieties and distractions. This also helps establish a studying rhythm.

Also consider communicating with your professors or advisors about your mental illness if it’s comfortable. Giving your instructors this insight can help them understand high functioning depression and anxiety.

Learn to love yourself and your anxiety and/or depression. This is critically important. If you are a student struggling with these forms of mental illness, embracing your reality can be a key to overcoming what feels like setbacks.

Finally, seek treatment and seek out help if you don’t know how to do so. While treatment looks different from person to person it works. This could equate to a lifestyle change, or possibly starting a medication. It may also be as simple as just needing a counselor to talk to.

If you want to support someone with high functioning depression, remember that seemingly little gestures go a long ways. Offering to do something kind or simply letting a loved one know they have your support, could make a world of difference. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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