Is Empathy a major cause of depression?

I’ve had a question in my mind recently:

Do sociopaths get depressed?

A Sociopath is someone who is someone lacking in empathy . They give the illusion of being emphatic  but their actions are self serving and rarely benefit others.

I know they get upset, anxious, worried and lose sleep over problems that will affect them, but do they actually get depressed? Do they even  feel down in the dumps?

So far, in my observations, I’d have to say I’ve not seen it. I could be wrong, of course, as I’ve not had the resources to do any meaningful study on the subject, but let’s assume I’m right for a moment.

The reason I pondered this question is because I’m wondering if one of the major cause of depression, (and cause of those who do self-harm), is empathy.

Are Empaths not only more prone to depression, but does depression mean that you may be an Empath?

Of course, I know enough to understand that this is a very simplistic premise, as depression can be caused by post-traumatic stress disorders, or uncleared shock and trauma, leading to clinical depression and everyone can have that happen in their life.

Still, there seems to be a common link between depression without obvious cause and being an Empath.

If someone is depressed, the first thing I wonder about them is are they one? In many cases, the answer is yes.

Still thinking it over.


If you know someone with depression, I’d love your feedback on the below poll.


23 responses to “Is Empathy a major cause of depression?”

  1. Amy Avatar

    As an oath with clinical depression, I thank you❤❤❤


  2. Genevieve Avatar

    Hello Gary, Thanks for stopping by my blog and liking it! It makes me feel good. Good knowing my voice was heard. It is like getting a little candy as a kid.

    I once date a sociopath who was verbally and psychologically abusive and mean to me. I was in love with him, unfortunately and it was just so very painful to go back to him only to be abused whenever he pulled me back. I was miserable when I was pushed away and pulled back by him. I was able to move on by completely cutting him off and blocking his phone number, Facebook and email. I failed to do that a couple of times but did it after all thanks to my friends’ support. Next time I run into a sociopath, I will avoid him/her right away. I learned that it was my subconsciousness that pulled me back to a socio path because it was used to abuse in the past and was not completely resolved from emotional wounds associated with traumatic events. It motivated me to start getting myself help for healing.

    I believe having a healthy dose of empathy is good but not too much to a point leading to depression. Balance is a key but it doesn’t come easy. Depression has come a very long way for me since I was about 5 because of psychologically, verbally and physically abusive parents with clinical depression, anger and personality disorder. I am still struggling with somatization disorder and personality problem with histrionic tendency after over 20 years since I left them in a very toxic environment. But in the promising healing journey through therapies, small groups and soul searching. I want to get better and happier!

    Best wishes,


    1. Gary Leigh Avatar

      Welcome there. The trouble with sociopaths is that they are amazing at gaining people’s trust because they ooze reassurance and self confidence. But once you get to know them, they are almost like a monster.

      That’s one reason why it’s hard for Empaths, especially those who want to give the benefit of the doubt to people.

      Healing can happen. (I find that Bach Flower Remedies have healed me the most. Not sure where I’d be without them.)


  3. Charmania Avatar

    Hey Gary,
    I can explain it all. I’ve worked it out. Not on purpose, I was forced to by necessity. I’m commenting now to remind myself to get back to you next week – I haven’t time just now. Some of my blog might explain. It has all been worked out before and most religions exist to help us understand our minds so we can live happily.
    It all depends how your mind was programmed as a child and the experiences that have formed us up until this point as well as your true personality.
    Understanding can help you take charge of your own mind again.
    Remembering that we are cooperative animals designed to live in family groups in small communities helps. We ought to know and be able to help those we know are suffering, the internet is the enemy of good mental health…
    Unless I can work out a way to explain everything and help everyone…
    Humans are natural teachers and learners, that’s another part of it.


    1. Gary Leigh Avatar

      I look forwards to your thoughts next week when you have time. Thanks.

      On Thu, Feb 13, 2014 at 9:49 AM, Psychic Empaths wrote:



  4. bipolarsojourner Avatar

    au contraire.

    take a look at the work of brene brown. she says that all humans desire connection. empathy is one way to derive the feeling of connectedness.

    for many people in depression, they isolate. this isolation is a sign of disconnection. they likely have a nearly empty empathy tank. they keep hearing about their brokenness.

    empathy is the start of turning someone away from depression. the depressed learn that they are okay where they are and who they are. empathy is a spark and soon there is a roaring, depression free fire of life.


    1. Gary Leigh Avatar

      Thanks for that. i’ll try and look him up.


      1. bipolarsojourner Avatar

        She had a couple of ted talks,, if you want a quick intro to her work. go to and search for her name.


    2. Gary Leigh Avatar

      It’s an interesting view, though have to say that’s certainly not my own experience. Empathy added to my depression, rather than healed it and there wasn’t anything I could do to stop it until I used Bach Flower Remedies.

      Thanks for sharing your view point.


    3. Mark Alexander Suizon Avatar

      I’ll check it out too, though my experience contradicts that. I am seemingly over-empathetic, I cant get the thoughts of starving/impoverished children out of my head, nor abused children, and abused animals in fur farms and slaughterhouses etc, I constantly feel bad for them, depressed.


      1. Gary Leigh Avatar

        Being empathic and causing depression would seem to confirm that it is a cause, for you at least 🙂


      2. marisablakley Avatar

        Mark, this is exactly what happens to me. This is the first time I have heard another human say this is the cause of their depression. I was in a DBT class which really helped me out, I have to tell myself I am not the keeper of the worlds suffering.


  5. Q&A – Developing my abilities or I might have been out of my mind. | Psychic Empaths Avatar

    […] Is Empathy a major cause of depression? ( […]


  6. Tucson Blonde Avatar
    Tucson Blonde

    Thanks for sharing this post!

    So, having spent several years (close to two decades) studying depression and mental health, I do not think that people who suffer from depression are Empaths. However, being empathic might worsen the symptoms of depression (having been diagnosed with double depression [yes, that is a diagnosis!] and having suffered from severe thyroid-related depression my whole adult life, I think I can attest to this personally!).

    The most empathic people I have ever met, were all Buddhist practitioners! I myself have become Buddhist (I took refuge in 2009) and have been practicing numerous forms of meditation, since I began my studies in (MA) Indo-Tibetan Buddhism back in the fall of 2007. I did not begin my studies with the intention of becoming a Buddhist! I had been studying consciousness for a number of years, beginning with Artificial Intelligence research (computational consciousness) then changed my focus to decision making/psychological pathology, i.e., abnormal psychology and obtained a BS in Pscyh and a BA in Philosophy (with a focus on freewill and phenomenology, or the study of perceptual experience). It’s important to know this, because I didn’t go to college until my 30s, but with a deep-seated desire to comprehend WTH caused my premonitions and my depression (I am a firm believer that the mind can affect the body as much as the body [health] can affect the mind!).

    Back to the present, now, I have been practicing Buddhism (and dropped out of my pursuit of a PhD in Cog Sc or Neurosc. because my graduate studies in Buddhism made me realize that there must be a better way of educating people on their actual potential than proving it through sterile academic lab research!) for years and before I took refuge my health had finally taken a turn for the better (while at the same time it took a turn for the worse, but on a different level–meanwhile even that has cleared up!). My chronic deep depressions and anxiety related to a treatment resistant thyroid condition started to ease up… heck, my Endocrinologist was completely surprised that even my thyroid started to heal (in ’07 she said that there was so much scar tissue that the thyroid gland was indistinguishable from the surrounding tissue and in the fall of ’09 it was a nearly perfectly formed “butterfly” gland again, to her amazement!). So I decided to go from being an agnostic (albeit baptized Catholic) to becoming a full-on Tibetan-Buddhist practitioner!

    I attribute my healing to, both my intensive graduate studies on the philosophy of mind aspects, as taught by Indian and Tibetan Buddhism, as well as, the yogic and meditation practices I had been introduced to at Naropa University (the best tie of my life… and I had to deal with my apt building catching on fire, and running inside to save my cats as 7 of the 21 units were in full blaze… and lost almost all of my belongings! And I’m not being sarcastic here…).

    The point I am trying to make, is that, what causes depression is unrelated to being empathic. Being empathic will worsen the symptoms of depression, however.

    I cry more often now though, than I used to, even as depressed as I was throughout my 20s. My empathy runs deeper now than ever before, and I am still learning to BE with an others’ suffering, without having to feel the need to FIX what *I think* is causing their suffering. It is incredibly powerful to just BE THERE for someone and not try to fix it/them. It is very difficult! Each of us WANTS to fix *it* and make things better… esp., Empaths!

    While I was still deeply in the throws of depression, one things did stick out to me… I felt helpless! I felt overwhelmed! I felt ALONE!

    Since I have become a Buddhist practitioner (and I’m not trying to “sell” this to anyone here, or anywhere really, just explaining my experience) with or without a Sangha (community of like minded practitioners) I do not feel alone any more. I am *one with* every single other human past, present, and future who suffers, too.

    We are fortunate to even be alive, and have so little time on this planet. Depression sufferers are often shunned, because people tend to believe that hanging around a person who has depression *is contagious* and then they make it worse, too, by neglecting or ignoring them! People who have depression should not add to their lowered affect, by assuming responsibility for their dis-ease and definitely seek treatment until they find what works for them (I have been treated with CogBehaviorl therapy for more than a decade, too, and it has kept me alive as well!).

    And for all you Empaths out there… yes, there is actually something called “mirror neurons” that make it possible for us to FEEL what another person is experiencing emotionally (though I also believe that we can get this experience without actually *seeing* anyone in person or in pictures.. but my comment IS getting very long now!) and the research on this topic is still in its infancy, being just under ten years into its’ discovery:

    When I heard about them during my undergraduate studies conducting fMRI research, I felt ecstatic! Finally, scientific PROOF that my empathizing with others isn’t a figment of my imagination!

    Recently, then, I contemplated on writing my own article about mirror neurons and some thoughts I had about psychopaths/sociopaths… and whether it would be possible to test and see, do they have some form of “disability” some un-evolved pathways that prohibits them from empathizing emotionally with their victims… or are they just generally incapable of feeling sadness or depression? There is unfortunately not very good research on these things… but if I get it together and write up my post, I will share it with Gary here at Psychic Empaths!

    Cheers for now,
    Jess (aka TucsonBlonde)


    1. Gary Leigh Avatar

      Thanks for the thoughtful response.

      While I agree not all depression is caused by being an Empath, I also feel there are specific types of depression that are Empath specific.

      I’m pretty sure there is a common cause to depression. Something that is at the root of it all.

      When I think I have worked it out, I’ll let everyone know.


  7. mms20 Avatar

    I’ve done a bit of research on ‘sensitives’, (and by a bit of research I mean a night in spent googling haha) and I think that people like that do tend to be more prone to depression. And I say that also from the stand point that I, myself, am that way, and I’ve struggled with depression my whole life. Though it should also be noted that the correlation between being very empathic and being depressed, might be more closely related to the fact that people who are empathic tend to be very sensitive and to also not be super social, thus they don’t have a large friend base and their depression could be closely linked with loneliness. Just some thoughts.


    1. Gary Leigh Avatar

      Thanks, and those are quite insightful thoughts.

      The lack of friends certainly would contribute to loneliness, though, I have to say, in my own experience, I’ve always had (at least, from the age of 16) a group of friends, and people I could always go to, but that did not stop the depression.

      As it goes, I did make quite an interesting find about depression and energy drains just a few days ago, which I am in the process of writing up. I think it will be important and relevant to all sensitives.

      Thanks again for your comments.


      1. mms20 Avatar

        You’re welcome, and I look forward to reading about it.


  8. gypsy116 Avatar

    Ive lived with both someone with antisocial personality disorder and someone with narcissistic personality disorder, and yes, I believe that they both suffer from severe depression at times. Although, I dont know that the depression is experienced in the same way has someone with high levels of empathy. I have a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, and with that comes both depression and empathy, and I do think that much of my depression comes from me not only having very strong emotion myself, but feeling everyone around mes emotions strongly as well.


  9. […] Is Empathy a major cause of depression? ( […]


  10. night owl Avatar
    night owl

    Elaine Aron’s research on the Highly Sensitive Person is quite interesting. Here’s an article about correlations between HSPs and depression.


  11. J Avatar

    In my experience, and a rather longish one, someone with a sociopathic personality does give the illusion of empathy (to the extent of joining empathy blogs sometimes!!) but does not feel any real empathy. A sociopath will suffer from anxiety mostly when the individual worries that they are about to get caught for their actions by legal or social powers bigger than them. They can be extremely intelligent but the intellect goes downhill steadily as the personality deteriorates further. When they can no longer perform as predators, they mostly get busy playing the victim in their own minds, convincing themselves that they are the wronged ones. Their one-dimensional anger and a blind selfishness overtakes any other emotion. They are absolutely incapable of feeling real empathy.


    1. Gary Leigh Avatar

      You’ve just described one of my bosses at work!


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