Being “High-Functioning” with a Mental Health Condition

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), a “stigma is when someone, even you yourself, views a person in a negative way because they have a mental health condition.” Stigmas shape the way that individuals with mental health conditions are viewed and how they are treated. A few of the common incorrect beliefs about mental health according to MentalHealth.gov include:

  • People with mental health problems are violent and unpredictable.
  • People with mental needs, even those who are managing their mental illness, cannot tolerate the stress of holding down a job.
  • Personality weakness or character flaws cause mental health problems. People with mental health problems can snap out of it if they try hard enough.
  • There is no hope for people with mental health problems. Once someone develops mental health problems, s/he will never recover.

These beliefs aren’t only incorrect, they also cause issues and hurt individuals with mental health conditions. An example of an issue that is caused due to these incorrect beliefs is when people do not believe that an individual has a mental health condition because they are too “high-functioning”. In this respect, high-functioning means performing or operating at a high level. This disbelief can cause people to say things like “I would have never guessed, you’re so successful” or “No you don’t, you are too smart to have a mental illness.” These statements are painful for someone dealing with a mental health condition to hear.

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Individuals who are considered to be high-functioning have to deal with the added component of people around them accusing them of lying or discounting their condition because they appear to be high-functioning.

An article posted on TheMighty.com titled “When People Think You’re ‘Too Functional’ to Have a Mental Illness” earlier this week spelled out the struggles that someone who is high-functioning with a “hidden” illness, such as a mental health condition, deals with. The main message that I took from this article was a reminder that everyone is fighting their own battle no matter what they show externally. I think about this specifically in how I personally choose to display myself outwardly versus what I truly feel or what I am experiencing.

When asked about my weekend, I’ll people about how I finished my personal brand video, prepped my lesson plan, had lunch with my mom, called my grandma, and went shopping for my graduation outfit and still found time to catch up on sleep. I conveniently leave out how I cried for three hours on Saturday and couldn’t get off the couch because of the depressive episode I was experiencing.

When asked how I am able to all my work and follow through with all my obligations, I laugh and tell whoever asked that I make really comprehensive checklists and that I don’t even have that much going on. I conveniently leave out how sometimes I only sleep 3 hours to finish everything I need to and how I don’t complete work up to my standards due to time constraints.

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These common (incorrect) beliefs about how individuals with mental health conditions act need to be eliminated. Instead of being shocked and not believing that someone is living with a mental health condition, offer them support. Tell them that you hear what they have told them and that you believe them even if they don’t match the stereotypes in your head. Tell them that you are there for them and that you are proud of them for sharing their condition with you. Show them compassion when they open up about such a personal part of who they are.


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