Rarely is there a one-size-fits-all diagnosis in the world of mental illness, especially when it comes to depression. These types of ailments manifest differently from person to person. So, how are you supposed to know if you suffer from depression or if you’re just in a really bad mood? The brain may be a complex mystery, but here’s what we do know.
Signs it’s a just a bad mood
You’re grumpy today. Over it. Kinda angry, kinda sad. We’ve all been in bad moods. Irritability can be brought on by external factors like a bad night’s sleep, vitamin D deficiencies, allergies, poor diet or PMS (and PMS’s nasty cousin, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, PMDD). Sometimes, you’re late to work because your cat threw up on your pants and then the bus was delayed, so of course you’re upset!
Other days, for no reason at all, you wake up on the wrong side of the bed and life is pure lemons, no lemonade. Maybe Mercury is in retrograde.
The biggest indicators you’re simply in a bad mood are if—ta da!—it goes away and—voilà!— you’re still able to give work presentations, pay attention in class, feed your dog, bathe your kids and accomplish everything in between. Tomorrow is better (heck, it’s fun, actually) and your rut was nothing a post-work jog couldn’t fix.
Signs it could be high-functioning depression
When your bad mood becomes your status quo and feelings of worthlessness, sadness, guilt or disinterest greet you every morning in the mirror, it might not be just a bad mood anymore. It could be high-functioning depression, also known as dysthymia or persistent depressive disorder (PDD).
Many people with PDD have successful social lives, careers and families. We see them doing it all and admire them for it. As Bridges to Recovery, a mental health treatment center, states, to the outside world a person suffering from PDD seems fine. However, internally it takes enormous effort for these people to get up and maintain all of their relationships and roles. They do it, but it hurts. And it’s hard. And this feeling lasts a long time. (We’re talking years.)
A psychiatrist or licensed mental health professional needs to diagnose PDD. To do so, they look for less intense versions of symptoms similar to those of major depressive disorder (MDD) over a period of at least two years. The American Psychiatric Association lists changes in sleeping and eating habits, lack of motivation, general feelings of emptiness, low self-esteem and indecisiveness as symptoms of MDD. If these occur almost every day, all day, for no discernable reason over a period of two years or more, it can indicate PDD.
It’s worth noting many people living with PDD suffer in silence, either because they haven’t recognized their symptoms yet or they don’t want to acknowledge them. People with high-functioning depression fulfill obligations, possibly even excelling above peers, and may consider constant irritability just a part of life. Often, even if someone recognizes symptoms of PDD, they convince themselves they aren’t feeling them severely enough to warrant asking for help. “I get to work on time every day and see my friends on the weekends! I can’t possibly be depressed!”
If you feel as though you’ve been in a bad mood since 2017, or even experienced extended bouts of sadness on and off for a few years, it’s worth checking in with a psychiatrist to see if PDD is the culprit. There are treatments available and therapists who can help you through it and out the other side.
You’re also not alone. Check out this informative and vulnerable piece from writer Christine Yu on discovering her own high-functioning depression.