Note: Despite the problematic nature of the term, I use “high-functioning” as a way to describe myself and as an easier way to discuss those like me in this way. I know just as well as the next person that I am not a “normally functioning” person. But when I’m around people and feel obligated to put on a mask, my functionality soars because it has to. I consider this “high-functioning” because of the drastic difference between what I’m capable of when I’m able to bury my symptoms under mountains of work. If this is read as some internalized ableism on my part by other mentally or physically disabled people, please let me know so I can work on that for the future.

All of us have been guilty of looking at someone who has accomplished a lot in life and thinking: Wow, that person really has their life together. I wish I could be more like them! Both neurotypical and neurodivergent people have had this thought about someone before. However, the person who looks like they have everything figured out may actually be someone who is struggling far more than they would ever let you know.

People with high-functioning mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression are simply people who suffer from any sort(s) of mental illnesses, but they have built up walls to hide their symptoms. Issues like this are much more common than you would think; an unimaginably large amount of people I have gotten to know over the years seemed like the most happy, carefree people but actually suffer from depression and/or anxiety or any other number of mental illnesses. Their condition(s) are just as real as those who openly express their symptoms, and this needs to be more openly recognized.

Stigmatization of people with high-functioning mental disorders is a highly contributing factor to them choosing to not open up more. Not being open about your problems even with people you are very close to can be absolutely detrimental to your mental health in addition to the pre-existing mental illness. A common misconception toward people with high-functioning mental illness is that their illness isn’t as serious as those who don’t function as well. First of all, this is how the term “high-functioning” has come to be seen as problematic; it suggests that those who are able to suppress their symptoms are more valuable members of society. Secondly, it is ludicrous to suggest that just because someone is able to hide their symptoms that they don’t have it as bad as those who can’t. These mentalities feed into the insecurity and worries of those suffering and makes them feel like they can’t open up about their problems without being told: hey, it could be worse.

It’s important to recognize the struggles people face in their mental illnesses. Making someone feel even slightly less alone in the world can make all the difference. While it can be difficult to identify who exactly the mentally ill people in our life are due to many people hiding it, it can make a world of difference to just extend compassion to everyone and to not make assumptions that just because someone seems happy and accomplished doesn’t mean that their life is perfect. You never know what someone is struggling with so it’s important to be understanding and kind to all. Please share this post so everyone can be informed and be a little more kind to each other. Thanks for reading!

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