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High Functioning Or Low Functioning: Neither Is More Or Less Valid

Having a mental illness and being high functioning can often mean that you are not taken seriously by professionals and by others around you. It can be seen as you not ‘having it as bad’ as someone else, that your illness must not be that severe if you’re able to function well. This is a damaging way of looking at things.

Everyone is individual in how their mental illness effects them

Someone’s level of functioning does not equate to what they are going through mentally, it does not equate to how much they are suffering. Everyone handles mental illness differently, everyone copes differently, everyone’s symptoms affect them in different ways.

Some people are able to work and some aren’t; some are able to go out and be social and others aren’t; some are able to maintain relationships and other’s aren’t; some people are able to appear completely ‘fine’ but behind closed doors it can a whole different story while others may ‘look’ sick. You never know what somebody is going through inside, and no one should ever make assumptions or judgements. Someone can be walking through life acting completely ‘normally’ and be dying inside emotionally.

People with a mental illness don’t always ‘look’ sick

You can’t look at someone and know what is going on in their mind. A lot of the time people hide their mental illness or put a brave face on things; a lot of the time people may dress well and try to look at their best to make them feel better; often people who are laughing and smiling can be in the depths of despair behind closed doors.

You are valid

Whether you are high functioning or low functioning, whether you can work or you can’t work, none of this makes you or your illness any more or less valid. Nobody has the right to judge you or to make these assumptions about you. If you are able to work and to maintain a high level of daily functioning most of the time then that is absolutely wonderful, you are doing great to be able to do that but it doesn’t mean that you aren’t suffering and it doesn’t mean that your illness is not valid. If you aren’t able to work and it’s all you can do to get through the day, then you are doing amazing too! It doesn’t make you unworthy or weak, it doesn’t mean that you should feel guilty or like a burden; it makes you strong to be able to keep going and to do what is best for you and your mental health.

A sliding scale

For me it’s like a sliding scale, a lot of the time I’m able to work and do lots in a day; other times I can work a bit and push through but it’s extremely tough and sometimes I’m not able to function at all and have to spend the day in bed. I do what is best for my mental health, and whether that means I’m high functioning one day or low functioning the next, then that’s entirely valid and something I have learnt to accept.

We need to be treated with respect and understanding

It’s not a competition, it’s not about who has it worse or who deals with their illness better; we should all be treating each other with respect and understanding, including medical professionals who need to be more aware and more educated on the fact that just because someone is high functioning, it doesn’t mean they are ‘lying’ or ‘exaggerating’ about their mental illness.

Any mental illness is tough going and if you’re doing your best, whatever that means for you, then that should be accepted and not judged; you should be treated with respect and taken at your word about what you are going through and you should be given the treatment that you truly deserve.

High Functioning Or Low Functioning: Neither Is More Or Less Valid

Ann-Marie D'Arcy-Sharpe

I am 32 years old. I live in Glasgow, Scotland UK with my husband and lots of lovely pets. I battle with Bipolar Disorder, fibromyalgia and arthritis. You can find my YouTube Channel here and you can also follow me on Twitter, here.

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APA Reference
D'Arcy-Sharpe, A. (2019). High Functioning Or Low Functioning: Neither Is More Or Less Valid. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 11 Jun 2019
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