Walking Depression is not an official medical term. It refers to a clinical presentation of depression that is easily disguised and which allows the sufferer to go about their daily life without anyone knowing anything is wrong. Synonyms for walking depression include high functioning depression and apparent competence. This clinical presentation can be particularly dangerous because individuals who easily disguise their depression are likely unable to get the emotional support they need. If they were able to acknowledge their feelings and express them to others, they would be able to get support but instead they are left to have a private experience of depression. It is a hidden experience and can also make people especially lonely. In fact, these depressed individuals may not even know they are depressed because they do not look like a typical person with depression and they also don’t take their experience so seriously.
It is important to differentiate this phenomenon from dysthymia which is a psychiatric diagnosis/medical term and refers to a chronic, low grade depression that lasts for two years or more. Often, people with dysthymia can still function, which is a hallmark of walking, or high functioning, depression, but the important difference is that the depressive symptoms of dysthymia are less severe than are those of walking depression. Additionally, people with dysthymia may appear to be slightly depressed whereas those with walking depression look totally fine.
Instead of experiencing their sadness, being frequently tearful, having no energy and being unable to get out of bed and/or go to work, people with walking depression may be smiling, friendly, and still able to go to the gym and work. They likely still have other symptoms of depression like reduced appetite and weight loss, irritability, inability to derive pleasure from things, and feeling full of guilt or shame.
5 Symptoms to Look Out For
No joy. The things that used to bring you joy no longer do. You may still engage in all of these activities like going to the gym, going out with friends, taking care of your pets or kids, spending time with your partner, but you just end up feeling nothing or continue to feel bad.
Feeling especially lonely and disconnected from people around you. You may spend plenty of time with the regular people in your life such as family, friends, and work colleagues. However, instead of feeling connected and enjoying their company, you might feel very alone.
Others may comment that you are always smiling or praise you for your ability to get so much done. If you recently experienced a loss or other event that would normally cause some symptoms of depression and find that others seem impressed with how well you appear to be doing, you may be struggling with walking depression.
Dismiss your own feelings. If you have walking depression you may chronically dismiss or invalidate your feelings and personal experience. You may regularly tell yourself “it’s no big deal,” “there’s no reason to be upset,” “I’m fine”
Never feel proud of yourself. Individuals with walking depression are fully functional at work. They are usually high functioning in general so they may accomplish quite a bit. However, they do not get the usual sense of satisfaction, pride, and fulfillment that they used to.
It is very important to look out for these symptoms in yourself and in those you care about. Especially now that we are in the midst of the holiday season and winter, individuals who are prone to seasonal depression, are on their own during holidays, or struggle with difficult family dynamics may be especially vulnerable. Take a few minutes to check in with others, and with yourself. If you notice yourself starting to feel “off,” starting therapy around this time of year can be a great idea.