I am not a doctor or psychiatrist offering medical advice. This article should not replace talking with a professional.
Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) are wired to be in tune with their environment, the emotions of others, and their inner world. They have the capacity to experience deep joy and savor the subtleties of their experiences. Simultaneously, they have the propensity to be overwhelmed by sensory information, the emotions of others, and the acute suffering of the world.
To a professional who is not knowledgable about HSPs, the intense emotional experiences, deep empathy, and sensitivity of HSPs could be mistaken for a whole slew of mental health disorders. Sometimes anxiety or depression symptoms can be an indicator your life, as an HSP, is out of balance. Thus, some HSPs have to watch out for being medicated (and wanting to be medicated) for experiences which are perfectly appropriate for someone with their trait.
For example, this article explores how western medicine can medicate women’s feelings. The author’s argument–women are wired biologically and hormonally to be in flux, to be sensitive, and empathetic–could also apply to Highly Sensitive People. Not only can other professionals label your sensitive nature as an indicator of a mental health disorder, you might also find yourself the worst culprit in pathologizing your sensitivity.
As an HSP, you need more downtime and less stimulation than non-HSPs, but you can’t always have that. If you’re continuously overstimulated, it will take its toll on your body and mind.
Additionally, HSPs who experienced difficult or abusive childhoods may be more prone to anxiety and depression than non-HSPs. Psychiatric medication can provide significant relief to some HSPs who are facing anxiety, depression, PTSD, or other mental health concerns. Sometimes our sensitive brains need a little extra help.
In addition to psychiatric medication, HSPs may want to seek out counseling with an HSP-knowledgeable therapist who will help you learn which symptoms could be related to chronic overstimulation and which may be a mental health disorder. HSPs may also want to consider exploring alternative treatment options – such as homeopathy, acupuncture, nutritional support, massage therapy or reiki as those approaches tend to be less evasive to sensitive nervous systems than traditional western medicine.
What can you do?
If you are facing the decision to go on or off psychiatric medication, consult with your doctor. Consider these steps to support you in the decision-making and exploration process.
1) Educate yourself
Ask your doctor for solid resources around psychiatric medication or treatment options. Reach out to established professionals to learn directly about their services. Make sure you take notes when you go to your appointments so you have something to reference later on, as you might be too overstimulated in the appointment to absorb everything. Your inclination may be to immerse yourself in the wonders of the internet to learn about different treatment options, healers, and medications. Keep in mind the internet is full of both useful and false information.
2) Honor your inner wisdom
As an HSP, you are acutely awareness of subtleties in the environment. This ability applies to your inner knowing about yourself and your needs. No one else is more attuned to your inner experience than you. If you have experienced trauma or abuse, it may be difficult to access and honor your inner wisdom, but it is still there.
Unfortunately, most psychiatrist and medical doctors don’t know much about the HSP trait. Feel free to educate your provider on your trait or refer them to websites or books to help them learn more. Do not hesitate to speak up in appointments if your provider is suggesting something which doesn’t feel right. If you are considering going off psychiatric medicine, it is essential to discuss this with your prescribing doctor.
3) Find a HSP-aware medical professional
As stated previously, most providers aren’t aware of the HSP trait. You might still be learning about your sensitivity, too. Seek out an HSP-knowledgable provider. Talk to fellow HSP friends. Join a community of HSPs (in person or online) to learn who they trust. With the increase in telemedicine, it may be easier to access an HSP-savvy provider than ever before.
If you cannot find a doctor or practitioner in your area who advertises themselves as HSP-knowledgable, seek out a doctor who practices patient-centered care. Find a provider who will honor you as the expert of your experience, provide options, and support your autonomy.
4) Give yourself time to think
When we are in the provider’s office, we are often pressured to make decisions right then and there. Usually the appointments are already rushed. This isn’t how HSPs work! Since HSPs process information more deeply, they need more time to think about their choices, especially once they are away from all the stimuli and novelty of a new environment. Here is what you can do instead of making a decision on the spot:
- Let your provider know at the beginning of the appointment you will need time to process and talk through your decisions.
- Take notes and repeat back to the provider what you heard so you make sure you fully understand your options.
- Identify 2-3 options that feel doable for you. If exploring medication, identify at least 2 medication options. If exploring going off medication, talk about the next steps for this. You don’t have to decide your next step in the appointment, just know what those next steps could be.
- Let your provider know the time frame for when you will call them back with a decision. Unless you are facing life-threatening symptoms, I recommend at least than 24-48 hours to mull it over.
- Once you have made your decision, call the provider back to let them know. If you have questions arise after your appointment, do not hesitate to call your provider.
It’s 100% up to you
The decision to starting taking or quit psychiatric medication is a deeply personal choice. You know yourself best and what will support you. With my HSP clients, I have seen both routes be helpful. For some, psychiatric medication allow them to get to a place where they could start to address any underlying issues. For others, even the lowest dose of a psychiatric medication was too much for their system and incredibly disruptive. Some HSPs find medication help with the symptoms of overstimulation, but dull their ability to experience the subtle joys and gifts afforded by their trait. Trust your inner knowing and find a provider who will support you, regardless of what path you take.
Arianna Smith, MA, LPC, EMDR