Highly Sensitive People And Antidepressants: What You Need To Know

By Anni


Let’s talk about highly sensitive people and antidepressants…

Every now and then someone leaves a comment on one of my articles, and when I start typing up a “quick” response, I realize an hour later that what I’ve written qualifies as a brand new blog post.  I guess we could call these comments thought-provoking. 😀

A case in point: a commenter asked why I didn’t include medications in my list of 17 Ways To Manage Overstimulation for Highly Sensitive People.

Now, before we go any further, let me emphasize that I have zero authority or desire to tell anyone whether they should or shouldn’t take antidepressants.  I’m not a mental health professional and I’m not qualified to diagnose or treat mental health conditions.  Depression has many potential causes, and if you have questions about the appropriate intervention for you, please consult a qualified professional.

Furthermore, if some HSPs want to take antidepressants and feel well taking them, I have no problem with that.  I’m glad they found a solution that works for them.

What I do have a problem with, however, is implying that medications are always a good solution for managing overstimulation or pressuring HSPs to take medications to “cure” their condition.

Here’s why.

Highly Sensitive People And Antidepressants: A few thoughts from one HSP...

Highly Sensitive People And Antidepressants

1. High Sensitivity Is Not A Disease, Disorder, Or “Condition”

Highly sensitive people are more likely than non-HSPs to become depressed, especially if they have had a troubled childhood or otherwise stressful life.

However, high sensitivity itself is not a disease, disorder, or condition to be cured.  It’s a genetic trait that is found in 15 to 20 percent of the population and it comes with both advantages and disadvantages.  Overstimulation and vulnerability to depression are among the disadvantages.

But depression is not an inevitable result of being born highly sensitive.  Highly sensitive people who figure out how to keep stress at bay can thrive in life.  Even highly sensitive people who did have a difficult childhood and who did become depressed don’t have to remain that way indefinitely.  I know because I’m one of those people and I recovered.

If a highly sensitive person wants to change the expression of their genetic trait and use medications to become less sensitive, that is their right.

But not all of us want that.  For some of us, the advantages of being a highly sensitive person outweigh the disadvantages.  And asking us to take medication is kind of like telling all red-haired people to dye their hair brown to fit in better with the majority.  Or telling all extraverts to take a pill to make them talk less. 😉

2. Many Highly Sensitive People Are Highly Sensitive To Medications

Another complication is that highly sensitive people tend to be highly sensitive to lots of different things. Including medications.

First of all, medications sometimes affect highly sensitive people more than the average person.  In practice, this means that we may need smaller doses than those commonly available.  For example, if I take the smallest available dose of Xanax, it renders me so “calm” I’m unable to function.  It’s great if I just want to lay in bed drooling and feeling nothing, but it’s not so great if I want to take care of my kids or get some work done.

Second, if we are more affected by the intended action of the medication, we are also more affected by the side effects.  This is the biggest reason antidepressants became a non-option for me personally and why I started my journey to find another way to combat depression.  After trying countless combinations of antidepressants, I never found one where the benefits outweighed the agony of the side effects.

3. Medications Don’t Always Address The Root Causes Of Depression And Anxiety In Highly Sensitive People

Some people might take antidepressants for a period of time while they are figuring out what they need in order to truly heal.  However, antidepressants are not curative and they don’t always address the root causes of depression and anxiety in highly sensitive people.

And what do I mean by root causes?

I mean that when things go wonky in our brains that doesn’t usually happen out of the blue for no reason.  You don’t just get hit by depression the way you get hit by the flu virus.  While there are a whole lot of neurotransmitters and different ways they can go wonky in our brains, for highly sensitive people, depression is often preceded by stress from chronic overstimulation.

Now, if an HSP wants to lead a stimulating high-stress lifestyle and wants to take medications for the rest of their life to enable them to do so, that is their right.

But not all of us want that.

I don’t want that.

All the medications I have tried (and I tried many back in the day) made me feel bad, so I don’t want to take them for the rest of my life.

And I’m not dying to lead a high-stress lifestyle either.  Not only would that hurt my health in countless ways not addressed by anti-depressants, but I tried living a more fast-paced life and I didn’t like it.

I like living a calm and quiet life.  I like giving myself space to rest and recharge.  I like exercising and cooking nourishing meals.

And I don’t need to be medicated just because some other people wanted to create a society that is sometimes too stimulating for me.

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About the author 

Anni

Hi! I'm a life coach, a Certified MBTI® Practitioner, and a mentor for stressed out introverts and highly sensitive people. I used to be one myself! My mission is to help you discover your true self and create a life you ACTUALLY like.

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  1. Well said and thought provoking.

    Am feeling a tab overwhelmed at the moment. I have cut back on my social interactions to allow for that. I have learnt over the years that if I don’t do this, I am at risk of making myself ill.

    1. Thank you, Claire! I think you and I have learned the same lesson. Sometimes we just need a bit of space to take care of ourselves.

  2. I am a hsp and suffered social anxiety years ago and 8 years ago I took antidepressants for 2 months o never took them from that time since I kne I was an hsp and made peace with my nature .i agree with you not taking them but I’m a bit worried I have taken them.do they cause damage or inhibit your sensitivity for a short peroi when taking them?

    1. Hi Dave, I honestly don’t know and I’m not sure anyone can be 100% certain about their long-term effects. However, I took them for a lot longer than you did and my sensitivity came back after I stopped taking them. Whether they caused any other damage – I just can’t say for sure.

  3. I m an HSP and often got depressed by even little things, sometimes my blood pressure also rises so if I don’t take medication I may suffer high blood pressure, I take SSRIs now and then, but I don’t like to take medication..
    Any suggestions??

    1. Hi Cheema, I can’t comment on your medications and blood pressure since I’m not a doctor, but I can tell you what has helped me get out and stay out of depression without medications. It has been (1) taking really good care of myself physically (sleep, exercise, whole foods, time to relax) and (2) figuring out what I naturally like to do and then adding more of those things to my life. All my articles about depression can be found here: https://www.solutionstoallyourproblems.com/category/depression/ I hope you find something that helps!

  4. I have had depression for many years. I have to take meds because when I slowly tried to wean off them, I really felt awful. I have to say that I resent your negative opinion on meds that have really made me feel almost normal. You wouldn’t tell a diabetic to stop taking insulin if they just excercised and ate better, because everyone is different.

    I can get up in the morning with no stress or depression and by mid day feel myself spiraling down with only the meds as my way to get through an episode. When you feel that bad you just can’t excercise or try to do your favorite hobby…you just can’t, you are paralyzed. So…Please don’t give advice about the effectiveness or use of anti-depressants as you are NOT a doctor. All you are doing is making people with depression feel worse that we cannot control our moods with positive thoughts, healthy food and excercise. It is not that simple.

    1. Hi Marian,

      Thank you for the feedback. While I welcome all viewpoints, I must say that your comment has left me a little confused.

      First, I think I made it pretty clear that I wasn’t trying to give advice about the effectiveness or use of anti-depressants:

      “…let me emphasize that I have zero authority or desire to tell anyone whether they should or shouldn’t take antidepressants. If some HSPs want to take antidepressants and feel well taking them, I have no problem with that. I’m glad they found a solution that works for them.”

      Maybe you missed that part or maybe it wasn’t as clear as I thought it was. In case it was the latter, I’d like to emphasize it again. Whether you take medication or not is none of my business. It doesn’t affect me in any way. I didn’t write this article in order to argue against people taking medication. Nowhere in this article, did I tell anyone to stop taking medications. Medications help SOME people and that’s great. I wrote this article to list the reasons why medications are not the solution for ALL highly sensitive people and why other solutions worked better for me personally.

      Second, nowhere in this article did I say that all depressed people should be able to control their moods with positive thoughts, healthy food, and exercise. I agree with you that it’s not that simple. I agree with you that positive thinking alone won’t work for most of us. (It certainly didn’t do anything for me.) Depression is a very complicated condition, with many potential causes and many potential cures. We don’t all have the same experience with it.

      For example, I understand that medications have been very valuable to you and allowed you to feel almost normal. And that’s great. Good for you! I, on the other hand, had a different experience with medications. I took them for many years and tried countless combinations, and they just didn’t work. They made me feel miserable. After struggling with depression and anxiety for more than a decade, my choices were to either give up or try something else. I chose to try something else.

      And you know what? It wasn’t easy. It was really hard. I have felt the paralysis that you describe. But I literally felt like I had no choice but to try. I did it little by little, very slowly, over a long period of time. And eventually, after a lot of struggle and trial and error, I got to where I am today – healthy and happy.

      There are two reasons why I believe that stress management, exercise, and diet can help SOME people resolve their mental health issues:

      1. I don’t think anyone would dispute the fact that stress levels, activity levels, and nutrition impact your body and your brain, including the neurotransmitters involved in mood regulation. That’s pretty much a scientifically proven fact at this point.

      2. These methods worked for me personally.

      I understand that some people don’t want to or don’t feel capable of using these methods to address their depression and would rather take meds, and like I said in the article, that is their right. Again, it’s none of my business.

      But I do believe that these methods work for SOME people. And that’s why I think your assessment that all I’m doing is making people with depression feel worse is inaccurate. I understand that my article may have made you feel worse, but your experience is not automatically the same as all other depressed people’s experience.

      Here’s the thing… The people who have found the solution to their problem by talking to a doctor and getting a prescription are not typically online looking for an alternative solution. They are out there living their lives and being happy. So that’s not who this website is for.

      This website is for people who either have tried taking medications unsuccessfully or who don’t want to take them for some reason and who are interested in learning about alternative ways to beat depression.

      For these people, I can offer hope (because alternative methods worked for me) as well as information on what exactly worked and how I was able to implement it all. And I know for a fact that these people find the information I share helpful, because I have received hundreds of emails and comments telling me that they appreciate it.

      With all that being said… Can’t we just co-exist without resentment? You take meds because they help you and I use other ways to manage my mental health because that works better for me?

      Anni

      1. Anni, you DID make it VERY clear early on in the article that you have zero authority to give advice on medications for HSPers and that if someone DID actually find help in them you were fine with that. Often people just DON’T read or make assumptions because they can. Thank you for your article.

  5. I am 51 & have been getting counseling for last 3 years . It wasn’t just my childhood but my current relationships w: my family , who consider my sensitivity as a disease I must stop . They do not believe the very important essence of my being and personality are anything to admire unless they need to turn to me . I am the black sheep because I don’t live & talk like them .

    I divorced a man I was married to for 22 years who was controlling , than a string of relationships w/ narcissistic, unhealthy men because I didn’t have boundaries . I believed in being kind .

    I’m saying all that to say . You can learn to love yourself and I took antidepressant to get me out of a very dark , deep hole . It helped me to smile again , etc . I might go off one day now that I am healing. I was close to suicide but would never do that to my son . I just cannot understand the cruelties of this world sometimes. The callous behaviors of others . All of that plus no support can make you feel hopeless. So I started on meds and it’s been literally lifesaver . You may need to try more than one or may not work for you . I just know it helped me . I felt like an open wound all the time . I just hurt so deeply . Ppl that aren’t sensitive like that will probably saying being dramatic but I am not at all. That’s how I felt. My work situation was 4 other women who treated me harshly at times and I was supposed to take it . I am not working there & have really worked on myself .

    I wouldn’t trade being sensitive but it has been a challenge in this world . It is not highly valued either . I think it should be .

    Tina
    Thank you .

    1. Hi Tina, thank you so much for sharing your story. I’m so glad to hear you have found help and that you are healing.

      I fully agree that being sensitive comes with challenges and that it’s an undervalued trait. My hope is though that that will change with time, as people become more aware of it.

  6. A interesting read I am currently coming off anti depressants. I didn’t realise but actually they have given me space to figure out what does work for me and I am looking forward to this new phase ahead of me

  7. I have been depressed as long as I can remember. My sister just told me today that what we feel is real and her son was diagnosed as one. I thought this was a personality trait. She said our whole family was afflicted with it. My son has had anxiety from a young age. He lives alone with his dog and it has helped not to have others in his space. I never felt it was an affliction but it hasn’t been good for me other than helping my son deal with his life choices. I have a great life, I just don’t feel it. I tried anti depressants but they made me feel messed up in so many ways. I can’t take medications of any kind without them making me feel weird. I can’t descibe it. Not even over the counters are good for me so I take them rarely and last resort. It all affects me negatively.

  8. So, I’m a HSP (due to a concussion mainly). Too much noise, movement, material to process, Lots of stuff, Walmart, the mall, tons of schoolwork/slides, children fighting, get me overstimulated. I can’t avoid everything I’d like to and I’d like to find a way to strengthen my brain/heal it (cuz it was a concussion), and block out all the stimulation. Also my brain goes to hyper speed/fight or flight mode really quickly (then it shuts down from running so fast and I have to take time to recover but I know mindfulness helps with this). Anyway did you mention a method for blocking out stimulation mentally or something? I’m willing to try stuff 🙂

    1. Hi Justine,

      First of all, I can 100% relate to your description of sensitivity and your list of “stimulants”. I could have written all of that word-for-word myself. So you are definitely not alone. 🙂

      One mind-trick I use is imagining a translucent bubble around me. I know it sounds kinda silly and it took me a bit of practice to get it to work, but I like it especially for blocking out other people’s emotions – like kids fighting, for example.

      Another one is picking an action hero from a movie or TV show and imagining that you are that person. Strong, confident, and ready to kick ass. 🙂

      And a third one is simply a mini-meditation to kind of “center yourself”. I like to focus on the number zero. I just go zero-zero-zero… in my mind.

      For the fight-or-flight, it’s mindfulness, like you said, and remembering to breathe in particular. I have worked hard to only breathe through my nose and always breathe into my belly rather than unconsciously holding your breath or doing shallow chest breathing. Breathing calmly like this the vast majority of the time helps keep your nervous system calm and it’s also a way to bring things back down when your system does fire. I actually use a device to remind me to breathe. I talk about it in this post:
      https://www.solutionstoallyourproblems.com/spire-stone-review/

      And the other thing that REALLY helps with the stress response is regular exercise, which I’m sure you already knew. 🙂

  9. Hi Anni,

    I’m very glad I stumbled across your site. Your story speaks to me and I can totally relate. I’ve been struggling with anxiety and depression for a very long time and haven’t found much success. I’ve tried pretty much everything under the sun — from supplements, books, therapies, to even living in Taiwan and studying martial arts! Meds didn’t help much and the side effects were too much to bear. I totally agree that holistic is the way to go long term but I have difficult time sticking to a healthy and low stimulation life style. I enjoy having a few beers, and have a difficult time resisting the urge for coffee! (Even though my body makes it very clear it is too much!) I commit for a few weeks to healthier habits but time and time again I go back to old habits like drinking coffee, or playing stimulating games. Could you share any advice on how to better structure a plan to staying on track to making healthier choices?

    P.S. I’m currently locked in another* state of chronic fight-of flight. This happens quite frequently, but for a few weeks, I will experience tightness in my chest, shortness of breath, sweating under arms that lasts on a daily basis. I’ve tried deep breathing, meditation, rest and relaxing but it seems to always come back. Any advice on how to get out of this state?

    P.P.S

    Do you provide support services? I would love to connect if so!

    1. Hi Chase,

      I’m so glad to hear you like the website! 🙂

      Your question is a really good one and I think I’m actually going to explore it more in-depth in a full-length article soon, but here are some quick thoughts:

      First of all, instead of an all-or-nothing approach, where you completely eliminate all “vices” I would work on finding a level of stimulation that you can tolerate without feeling like you’re having to give everything up completely. Like maybe one cup of coffee in the mornings, having a couple of beers on weekends, and setting a time limit on the games and not doing them in the hour before bed?

      Second, we all overdo things from time to time, so just expect it and accept it. Instead of beating yourself up for not sticking to the plan, just notice how it makes you feel and think of it as a reminder of why you stick to the plan most of the time.

      Third, there’s kind of a snowball effect that happens the longer you manage to “do what’s good for you”. The better you feel, the more willpower you have to implement further changes. And the more you start actually seeing and feeling the benefits, the less appealing the “bad for you” stuff becomes. So the longer you manage to stick to it – even if imperfectly – the easier it gets!

      I do not offer one-on-one support services, but I have a few self-paced programs. There’s Conquer Your Overwhelm for HSPs, an online course that walks you through reducing sensory, lifestyle, and emotional overwhelm. Then there’s Design Your Best Life, which is an online course that helps you identify your personality traits, interests, and values and then change your life to match. You can find out more about it by watching my free video class. And then finally, there’s Conquer Your Anxiety Action Pack, which is a step-by-step guide for implementing anxiety-squashing lifestyle changes.

      If you have questions about any of it, you can use the contact form to email. I sincerely hope you find something here that helps! I’ve been in that chronic stress state and I know it’s not a good place to be.

      Anni

  10. Hello, I am so glad I came across your site. I am a HSP and I am currently struggling with my medication situation. I have depression and anxiety as well as had an abusive childhood and my doctor and psychiatrist were more than quick to start me on antidepressants. I have tried multiple medications and nothing seems to really be working for me and the side effects have affected me tremendously even on the lowest dosages. I am currently debating whether or not to continue my medication because I truly feel as if I am a different person on these. I cannot feel things as deeply and I don’t look forward to things in life as much as I used to. I feel like my feelings are just numb. This has made me extremely upset and I want to feel like my natural self again. I am leaning towards stopping the medication. I was wondering if you have my more advice on embracing my sensitivity and trusting my inner self?

    1. Hi Eve,

      Thank you so much for commenting and sharing your experience. It sounds like your background and experience are very similar to mine!

      The one thing that has really helped me embrace my sensitive self and achieve contentment as an HSP has been learning techniques for managing stress and emotions. Once those meds aren’t there to numb you, negative emotions can feel very uncomfortable and you need some other way to deal with them. I like to think of emotions as reactions to the environment or circumstances I’m in. They carry valuable information and they are worth paying attention to. So I have tried to a) work toward changing my environment and circumstances so that there is less for me to react to and b) have a process in place to deal with emotions when they do happen.

      If you are interested, there’s a lot more detail on all this in my courses.

      Take care,
      Anni

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