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Counsellor on high-functioning depression in the Filipino community

The signs of high-functioning depression may go unnoticed. Source: Photo by Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas from Pexels

Responsibilities are attended to and relationships are kept; but an internal war rages. While high-functioning depression may be imperceptible, it's a disorder that still needs attention.

"Because of their responsibilities and expectations from others, people with high-functioning depression tend to show a front that they’re okay. This is especially common in the Filipino community."

Psychotherapist and counsellor Manna Maniago shares that while the symptoms of high-functioning depression may be subtle and unnoticeable, the suffering it causes can feel as insurmountable as depression that causes debilitation.

Manna Maniago
Psychotherapist and counsellor Manna Maniago
Manna Maniago

The signs and symptoms

A practitioner of almost five years, Sydneysider Manna shares that she decided to pursue a career in the "helping industry" because she had witnessed the suffering people with depression and anxiety have had to endure.

"I saw the need," she says, adding, "There are people who suffer in silence. They don't reach out. My line of thinking especially is to help our our fellow Filipinos - [to be there for them,] instead of telling them to brush it off or that it's a passing thing."

Manna Maniago
Manna at work and with colleagues
Manna Maniago

Passing thing it is not, with Manna saying that while debilitating depression manifests in signs such as the inability to work or maintain relationships, high-functioning depression is less apparent.

"Even if high-functioning depressives are successful on the outside and everything [in life] seems great, they have low self-worth, low moods and, they experience days when they feel on top of the world but all of a sudden, bad days creep in and they feel hopeless."

depression, success
High-functioning depressives can be successful and seem to have everything together.
Free-Photos from Pixabay

The feeling of hopelessness tends to translate to fatigue, but also a difficulty when it comes to sleeping.

"They tend to always feel tired and have a change in appetite. With high-functioning depressives, they can't sleep at night and just browse on social media, You'll see people active on social media for like 24 hours; but during the day, they can mask it."

Manna shares that masking the depression adds a heaviness to those who suffer, but also makes others around them feel like a fix isn't necessary.

depression, work
"[The ability to function] makes it so that others feel like nothing needs to be done to help them."
StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

"[The ability to function] makes it so that others feel like nothing needs to be done to help them. Those suffering look happy on the outside. They're happy and smiling. They're functioning. They have a good job and a good family, From the outside they've got everything sorted out," she shares, adding, "But inside, there's a feeling of struggle, of pain that needs to be addressed."

The signs of high-functioning depression may not be obvious; but Manna shares that if one is vigilant, there are subtle signs.

depression, burnout
"They're always wanting to make sure that they are at 120% in everything they do."
geralt of Pixabay

"High-functioning depressives are tough on themselves. They always want to be perfect, like they're trying to compensate for their feeling of lack of self-esteem. They're always wanting to make sure that they are at 120% in everything they do."

High-risk groups

Some of the groups that tend to always try to be at 120% in everything they do are international students and mums.

"They're the ones who are at high-risk for high-functioning depression because they tend to push aside their feelings because of their responsibilities," Manna says, adding, "Part of my pro-bono work in Sydney is I see Filipino international students. Some of them come here to study because it can be a pathway to permanent residency and a better life in Australia."

Part of Manna's pro-bono psychotherapy work is helping Filipino international students.
Kobe Michael from Pexels

Manna says, though, that a potentially better life in Australia also brings with it difficulties that may lead to depression.

"Some students had to sell everything they had in the Philippines to be able to afford tuition; so there are huge expectations for them to be successful and gain employment straight way...those become a burden," she shares, adding, "They keep quiet because they don't want to be seen as weak. And on top of that, they're here by themselves, with no support. All they have are people they just met. It's hard to build new relationships."

While international students have to contend with building new relationships, mothers have to wrap their heads around their existing ones.

Mothers, depression
Manna says that mums, whether they're mums of newborns or high school children, are a high-risk group for high-functioning depression.
samuel Lee from Pixabay

Manna says that mums, whether of newborns or high school children, are a high-risk group for high-functioning depression.

"Mothers have to be strong for their families. They wear different hats, but also tend to be more critical of themselves even if they do a lot for their families. Even if they tick all the boxes of what good mums do, they think they're not good enough," she shares, adding, "In our Filipino culture, especially, mums are always met with criticisms - on what they should or should not do. That adds to the pressure."

Manna shares that added pressure is especially felt when those suffering from high-functioning depression aren't able to accept their limitations or set boundaries.

Learn how to say no and to set boundaries.
Foundry Co from Pixabay

"Us as Filipinos, we tend to say 'yes' all the time because we don't want to hurt or offend other people. Sometimes it gets to be too much for us, but we still have to attend to someone else's needs," Manna says, adding, "When you feel like you're drowning inside and you feel so overwhelmed that you want to scream, seek help. Remember that in order to take care of others, your tank also has to be full."

In as much as high-functioning depressives tend to take care of others over themselves, Manna says that it is those others that also need to be more aware of the sufferers' ailment.

depression, friends
"When someone says they’re depressed, seriously consider it."
Tan Danh from Pexels

"When someone says they’re depressed, seriously consider it. People who hear this from those who suffer tend to keep quiet because they don't know what to say; so they need to be educated when it comes to how to react," she shares.

Manna says that mental health should be looked at as equal to physical health.

"When someone has the flu, for example, signs are more obvious. They're told to take medicine and see the doctor. With mental health, it's harder to notice and it's harder to give advice; but it you sense someone is going through something, reach out. Sometimes, when you show genuine empathy and concern, they start opening up."


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