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Existential Depression: Learn About the Mental Health Condition Affecting the Gifted & Talented

What are existential depression and existential anxiety? How do you know if it could affect someone you love?

Existential depression is a form of depression that affects millions of people worldwide. It is a type of depression that often taps into philosophy, by questioning concepts like, human free-will, life after death, and the purpose of life. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about existential depression, and how it can be treated.

What Is Existential Depression

It’s inevitable for the human mind to seek a deeper understanding of a human life—it’s ultimate purpose and it’s ultimate reasoning for existence. We strive to gain a better understanding of these philosophical thinking, we may undoubtedly hit that bump in the road.

Yes, this bump in the road is existential depression—that is the thought process which causes a person to ponder upon the clichè ‘what is the meaning of life’ debate. But, what exactly could the meaning of life have to do with depression?

Existential depression is a type of depression that is commonly seen in gifted people and gifted children. It is a mental illness that causes people to search for life’s meaning. Psychiatrist Irvin Yalom explains that there are 4 causes to this kind of depression, and they are:

  • Death
  • Freedom
  • Isolation
  • Meaningless

What is Existentialism

Often philosophers find existentialism very difficult to define—as, it is subjective and a spiritual meaning. However, in philosophy, it is a theory that loosely discusses topics such as:

  • life’s meaning
  • what is human free will

To put simply, existentialism, states “You have a purpose, but you choose your own purpose when you’re born. However, all the actions and purpose chosen are irrelevant, because the universe is infinite.”

This leads to many philosophers and in fact, many great minds, realizing that there is no reason for an individuals existence, there is no predetermined path or purpose one must follow. But, it is human nature to seek a “purpose in life”, and so humans may force themselves to create their own purpose and morality to live by. This concept leads to many people asking “is there such thing as human free will?” as we are the victims and prisoners of our own minds.

What is Depression

Depression is the chronic feeling of sadness, emptiness, and hopelessness an individual may experience. There are many kinds of depression a person may face, this includes:

Often people with clinical depression may lose interest in activities they may have once enjoyed. Additionally, clinical depression is often associated with symptoms like:

  • Loss of energy
  • Guilt
  • An inability to concentrate
  • A person may sleep a lot more or a lot less than normal
  • Changes in weight
  • Hopelessness

Depression is generally diagnosed by a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or counselor. Additionally, your mental health professional may also suggest that you get a full physical and blood test done, in order to rule out the possibility of metabolic disorders.

Existential Crisis Definition

The meaning of existential crisis is a moment in time where an individual comes to the realization that nothing we do in our short life matters. Because we are but a small fragment of the Universe and we ultimately are not put into this world for a purpose. So, an existential crisis is the point in time where an individual begins to question “the meaning of life”.

What is Existential Anxiety 

Existential Anxiety is associated with existential depression. Existential anxiety simply refers to a psychiatric disorder whereby a person may experience an overwhelming sense of fear and uneasiness, in a given situation. The general symptoms of anxiety is subjective to the individual, but may include:

  • increased heart rate
  • increased respiration
  • a feeling of weakness
  • Panic attacks
  • Loss of control
  • Heaviness
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness
  • Fear
  • Stomachaches
  • Vomiting

Signs of Existential Depression 

Psychiatrist Irvin Yalom states that a person with existential depression may experience either one or all of these symptoms which includes:

  • Feelings of Meaninglessness
  • Death Anxiety
  • Freedom Anxiety
  • Existential Isolation

Feelings of Meaninglessness 

Have you ever asked yourself “What is the meaning of life? Why do I exist? Do we have a purpose in life?” Well, if you’ve ever asked yourself these existential questions, then without a doubt you’re experiencing the feelings of meaninglessness.

A feeling of meaninglessness can be quite difficult to explain. And, this is because there is no generic definition of this term—as, it is a feeling and is therefore subjective to the person experiencing it.

To feel meaninglessness can imply that a person has lost motivation in the things they once enjoyed. But why? Because at the end of the day, the human life is short, and once a human greets death, then everything they ever did during their life will no longer cease to exist.  As we previously mentioned, humans strive to seek a purpose for their life. It is this constant fight for a personal identity, goals, values, and morals, that lead to a feeling of distress and meaningless.

A person who has come to realize the irrelevance of searching for the meaning of life faces distress because of they are not able to conform to the structures and mindsets that society places on humans.

Death Anxiety

Yalom states that “the fear of death plays a major role in our internal experience.” By this, he implies that at some level of consciousness and even unconsciousness, every human being is aware of their impending fate—death. Death is a fear all humans have because it makes us face our ultimate end.

According to Yalom, death anxiety often involves the fear that is generated when people ask 3 questions:

  1. Is there a life after death, and if so, then what comes after death?
  2. The anxiety and fear of experiencing the event of dying.
  3. Questioning our human existence, that is—no longer existing in the Universe.

Freedom Anxiety and Assumption of Responsibilities

As I mentioned, humans are prisoners of their own minds. This is because humans have a desire to give their lives a purpose. Humans construct morals, values, laws, and societal structure. But, in the end, every human being will greet death, and everything they have ever done will cease to ever exist. This is what existential freedom refers to—the ability to live without a purpose, without a social or physical construct.

Existential Isolation

According to Yalom, a person with existential depression may face existential isolation. And, the feeling of isolation is often placed in 3 classes:

  1. Interpersonal Isolation: Where an individual feels lonely and may feel isolated from society.
  2. Intrapersonal Isolation:  An intrapersonal isolation is a lot more difficult to explain. It is almost an isolation that occurs when gifted individual struggles with his/her own thoughts, feelings,  and desires. So, people with intrapersonal isolation often experience self-doubt and may lack trust in themselves.
  3. Existential Isolation: This form of isolation refers to the feeling a person may have because their thoughts are so unique, different, from the rest of what society deems as the norm. For example, a person born and raised in a particular religion may someday face existential isolation. This can occur if that individual begins to question concepts such as human free-will, and life as meaningless. As such, they may feel withdrawn from their “Religion, family, or society”.

Treating Existential Depression 

Unfortunately, existential depression cannot be “cured”, but it can be managed. This is because existential depression is a psychological, spiritual thought process. And so cannot change the way you think, but you can find ways to cope. So, if you believe you have someone you love who is facing existential depression, then the best method of treatment is psychotherapy.

What Is Existential Psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy is commonly referred to as talk therapy amongst mental health professionals. Therefore, existential psychotherapy often involves psychiatrists and counselors helping people explore themselves through philosophy. Existential therapists have trained in the art of understanding existential questions and will help individuals face their fears, anxieties, and depression.

Existential Depression: Bottom Line 

Gifted individuals and intelligent people are at most risk of facing existential depression! It is a very difficult topic to explain because it is often subjective to the person experiencing it. The famous show Rick and Morty is perhaps the best example that demonstrates existential depression.

The bottom line is that Rick—the main character, is dubbed “the most intelligent man in the Universe”. Throughout the series, he discusses various aspects of human existence, the purpose of one’s life, and death. Though he acknowledges much of his thought processes, it becomes obvious throughout the show that Rick begins to face:

  • existential aloneness
  • loss of self-identity
  • intellectual overexcitability

Existential depression is a type of depression that’s quite commonly seen in gifted adults. It is a form of depression that occurs when a person begins to question the reality of their lives, their purpose, free-will, and their insignificance.

Sources

  1. https://www.aconsciousrethink.com/4839/existential-depression-defeat-feelings-meaninglessness/
  2. https://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/existential-therapy.html#howexistentialcounsellingcouldhelp
  3. https://psychcentral.com/blog/coping-with-existential-depression/
  4. https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/major-depression#2-7
  5. https://www.davidsongifted.org/Search-Database/entry/A10269
  6. https://www.anxiety.org/what-is-anxiety
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