Are you depressed, or just Highly Sensitive?

I’m reposting this older article to help people.

Dr. Elaine Aron’s research in the 1990s found that 15-20% of the population have nervous systems which function slightly differently from the rest.

Such individuals notice subtleties: in the environment, differences and relationships between people and/or objects. Dr Aron named this trait ‘Highly Sensitive Person’.

Some features are:

• People’s moods and the ‘atmosphere’ in a room affect you
• You need time alone to process your experiences
• You have a rich inner life with a vivid imagination
• It is hard to function when you are very hungry or tired

Do any of these sound familiar?

In the West, being Highly Sensitive means you are in a minority and minorities can experience misunderstanding. The fashion at present is to be assertive; work long hours; keep going no matter what; be extrovert. Not the opposite.

So if we grow up in the West, is it any wonder that our Highly Sensitive trait becomes a source of shame and disappointment? Such a sense of isolation can lead to thinking we are ‘not good enough’ and/or feeling depressed.

However, do not think depression is inevitable. Being Highly Sensitive has great benefits:

• You are highly aware of dangers, so can often prevent them.
• Your awareness of ‘atmospheres’ gives you an ability to build bridges between people.
• Your inner life means you spend much time thinking and can devise resourceful solutions.
• Your empathy means you are very good at creating intimacy with others.

I am not suggesting that everyone’s depression is caused by being Highly Sensitive. However, those with this trait comprehend experiences far more profoundly and see the consequences of events far more clearly. Such deep processing can lead to worrying and anxiety: this combined with feeling isolated and ‘not normal’ can produce depression.

However, it IS normal to be Highly Sensitive, because up to 20% of the population is the same.

Look around. Put ‘Highly Sensitive Person’ into a search engine. Notice shy people- are they Highly Sensitive? With some effort could they become good friends? Now I know I am Highly Sensitive I seek out others and am gradually building a network of supportive friends.

Elaine Aron’s site:

That was a summary of my article. Read the entire one here: Catherine Chisnall at Wikinut

Buy Elaine’s book from Amazon:


11 thoughts on “Are you depressed, or just Highly Sensitive?

  1. Very interesting. I was depressed for years, but happiness is a wonderful cure for that, as well as Vitamin D, esp. through the winter months. I hate – hate – going to zoos, because the bad atmosphere really affects me. xxx :-))

  2. Catherine, I have a copy of Dr Aron’s book too and have HSP traits. I realised this about 8 years ago after a difficult period I went through. I am also a scanner. If I find that I am overstimulated I tend to slip into anxiety and I can very easily become overstimulated as I always find extra interesting things to do or think about! It can be hard for those close to you to comprehend if they do not have the trait themselves. It is a case of trying to manage it and not to see it as a negative trait but a positive one though, which is sometimes easier said than done. 🙂

    • I realised I was an HSP (rather silly name for it, lol) about 4 years ago. Then due to that I realised I was also a Scanner (another silly name. I prefer Multipotentialite). I think there is a lot of correlation between HSP and Scanner.
      At first I was very disappointed to be an HSP, and spent ages trying not to be, regretting my own nature and worrying. But eventually, I realised it IS a positive trait. Once I prevented a traffic accident due to my ability to see what was going to happen- a large lorry was going to turn into the country lane where I live just as a mum with twins in a pushchair, unable to fit onto the narrow pavement, was wheeling up the road. I can’t remember the details but I saw that if the lorry turned in, it would crash into them, so I halted the lorry and the mum, and got her out of trouble. The lorry driver was so relieved.
      Since then, I’ve been happier to have these extra senses.

      • I agree that here is a lot of correlation between HSP and Scanner as many traits overlap. Your experience in averting an accident shows how positive it can be. The hardest thing for me is making myself relax and I find that gardening helps, just doing something physical and outdoors means that I’m not constantly soaking up the emotions of others or being distracted by too much stimuli.

      • I’ve just read the article where the author states his belief that HSPs are specialists and it is quite persuasive. I suppose for those of us who are HSPs and Scanners there is forever a pull in opposite directions, the one inclination to specialise and immerse ourselves into a potential ‘calling’ (if we can find one) and the other which is always on the look out for new stimuli and interests to make sense of our world and enrich ourselves with! One of my issues when at work (I’m currently at home with my two children) was that after a few years doing the same thing I invariably got bored and wanted something different as I felt that I was not learning anything else useful. It was not the answer to go up the hierarchy as I found this to be even more unfulfilling as it removed me from the sense of achievement in doing a job well and also opened me up to office politics which I was ill equipped to deal with. The current trend for open plan offices I also found difficult to cope with as I work best and am more creative alone, although I do like to come together with others now and then to compare notes/brainstorm etc. Sorry I’ve rambled on a bit! Hope it makes sense 🙂

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