Existential depression: when life loses its meaning

Existential depression is a little known but recurring type of psychological condition. Among its characteristics there is, for example, the feeling of not meeting expectations, that life is meaningless or that the world is a place out of tune, a scenario plagued by endless injustices and inequalities.

It is possible that this term sounds strange and even risky from a clinical point of view. Well it’s true that does not appear in the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) and also that we know of no one who has received this diagnosis. However, it should be noted that it is a common type of psychological condition and that a portion of the population suffers from it.

History of existential depression

It was in 2012 when Dr. Robert Seubert published a research paper in Journal of the European Psychiatric Association to highlight something important. A part of our society doesn’t respond to standard treatments for depression and this could be related to personality type and also high intellectual abilities.

There are people who navigate to other psychic universes; ones where they ask deeper questions and experience an unusual kind of suffering. Feeling anxiety about the future of the world or sadness about not having found the true meaning of life could constitute a very particular depression.

Worried man suffering from existential depression.
Existential depression appears in people with high intellectual abilities.

Existential depression: definition, symptoms and causes

It is possible that this depressive typology takes us back to authors such as Søren Kierkegaard or Friedrich Nietzsche. His philosophical current spoke to us about the principles of individual freedom and responsibility, human solitude and that classic concept which is existential anguish.

The latter term refers to that fear towards the future, towards the weight of our decisions, the vertigo of not becoming what is expected. Now, what does all this have to do with existential depression itself?

Actually, a lot. One of the figures who most studied this psychological condition was Irvin David Yalom, Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and psychotherapist. One of his most important works is “Existential Psychotherapy”.

There he tells us the main characteristics that the person with this type of depression shows. As we’ll see, It is quite similar to those ideas that were transmitted to us in their time by the most representative figures of existentialism. in philosophy.

What are the symptoms of existential depression?

All depression is a multidimensional and complex phenomenon. Each person experiences it differently and, in general, tends to be comorbid with other disorders, such as anxiety. Now, this type of reality has a series of very particular characteristics which are as follows.

  • lack of sense: the person finds no meaning in his existence. Feel as if you are moving in a void where nothing is transcendent, authentic, or mind-enriching.
  • Feeling of not being understood: is to feel strangers in this world, as well as alone.
  • Cannot perform: because society is limited, because there are no mechanisms to promote this creative, professional, human and civic growth.
  • Suffering from social injustice: because of inequalities, because of lack of freedom.
  • Often ramble about death: there are thoughts about the transience of the human being. Suicidal ideas are also present in this type of psychological disorder.
  • Physical Manifestations: such as fatigue, insomnia, hypersomnia, eating disorders.

A type of depression common in people with high intellectual abilities

Existential depression is integrated into a theory developed by the psychiatrist Kazimierz Dabrowski (1902-1980). This approach is called positive decay and is based on the following explanation:

  • People can go through 5 stages of personal development.
  • However, about 70% of the population does not pass the first three stages. It is a development where you end up getting used to the guidelines set by society, until little by little you find your place in it and adapt.
  • Conversely, 30% reach the pinnacle of personal development and, far from giving them more wisdom or well-being, what it causes is having to go through a period of existential crisis. They don’t feel integrated into what society expects of them.
  • This is what Dr. Dabrowski called the positive decay. In other words, whoever reaches that level is forced to reformulate himself, to disintegrate in order to rebuild himself.
  • However, It is normal for them to go through a period of deep doubtsof anguish, of not finding the meaning of everything that surrounds them.
  • This kind of pain is common in people with a high IQ; men and women who most frequently experience existential depression.
Woman with existential depression.
Feeling that life has no meaning is one of the most recurring ideas in people with existential depression.

therapeutic strategies

Can existential depression be treated? This type of condition, like any other type of mood disorder, is treatable.

In general, it is important to individualize the therapeutic strategy taking into account the needs of each person. In this way there will be those who, in addition to psychological therapy, will also benefit from a pharmacological response (antidepressants). However, How to help the person with high intellectual capacity suffering from depression?

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy is always a good strategy. It will allow us to direct those thoughts into more positive approaches in which to find new meaning in life. HE will tryAlso, set goals that the person can achieve and get excited about the future again.
  • Emotional management will be worked on to reduce the impact of more adverse or complicated emotions. The goal is to ensure that the person continues to develop, but without the burden of distress and negativity.
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). This kind of approach it allows us to assume that the world is often not as we would like it to be. We must accept uncertainty, contradiction and injustice without this suffering invalidating us. But by committing ourselves to marking a series of values ​​and goals to conquer them.

Cope with existential depression, even if it’s not in the textbooks

To conclude, although existential depression is not included in diagnostic manuals, there are effective treatments and strategies to mediate the well-being of people who suffer from it. It is difficult for a patient to get to the consultation with this approach, but your feelings about the world around you will prompt you to seek help.

The Post Existential Depression: When Life Loses Its Meaning first appeared in research-school.



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