What it is, symptoms and how to deal with it


A person with existential depression may experience a persistent sense of hopelessness and a struggle to find meaning in life. These symptoms can disrupt a person’s life and make them feel isolated.

People with existential depression may not be able to stop thinking about unanswerable questions, leaving them in a constant state of despair.

Experts have largely linked this type of depression to “gifted” people. Although researchers have studied existential depression, it is not an officially recognized diagnosis in the world Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition. Instead, a doctor may diagnose a person who experiences these symptoms as having major depressive disorder (MDD).

This article takes a more in-depth look at existential depression, including how it can affect gifted individuals, how it compares to existential anxiety, and how to deal with it.

A person with existential depression can feel depressed for many reasons, and their symptoms can be similar to other types of depression. However, since existential depression is not a clinically recognized diagnosis, a doctor would likely diagnose the person with MDD.

All types of depression have triggers that further investigation can uncover. Existential depression can develop when a person thinks about life frequently and thinks about things that cause a deep sense of hopelessness or unhappiness.

When a person contemplates questions about life and existence for which there are no answers – such as what the meaning of life is, why people suffer, or what happens after death – they may find it difficult to make sense of it to find. Seeking sanity in injustice, pain and adversity where none appears can lead to an existential crisis.

Existential Questions focus on four main themes:

  • Death: Individuals might consider the inevitability of death and what comes after death.
  • Futility: A person may wonder what the meaning of life is.
  • Isolation: Feelings of isolation can result from a lack of connection to others and the breakdown of important relationships.
  • Freedom: The person may reflect on the overwhelming variety of choices and consequences in life.

Existential depression can also involve a person focusing on questions such as “Why me?” They may question their existence after experiencing trauma, serious illness, or other life-changing events.

If a person fails to accept in time that some of these questions are unanswerable, they can be left with a lingering sense of despair. The inability to stop brooding over the same questions can cause a person to experience persistent existential depression.

Existential depression can involve what psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski has termed a disintegration of the self. This can happen after:

  • losing touch with life goals and values ​​that were previously important
  • Feelings of guilt and a fixation on past choices and mistakes
  • Feeling of detachment and helplessness
  • lose interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • breaking away from loved ones and experiencing the breakdown of relationships
  • lose self-esteem

studies have also found that intellectually gifted adults may experience a lack of fulfillment and poorer mental well-being. As a result, they may be more likely to experience existential depression.

research suggests that depressive disorders and mental illnesses in general are more common in gifted children. These are students who are achieving something higher academic grades than their peers.

In the 1970s, Dabrowski developed a complex theory of personality development called positive disintegration. According to this theory, some people are better at processing and reflecting on traumatic events than others. He proposes that these people are able to evolve and grow through five levels of personal development, eventually achieving a new authentic identity and sense of self.

Dabrowski suggests that people who can meaningfully convert difficult experiences into improvements possess hyperexcitability, meaning they are gifted in some way. These people may have exceptionally strong imagination or intellect and have a heightened response to the senses. You may also be more empathetic and emotional than other people, and also more energetic.

According to positive disintegration theory, as well as other research, a person should not characterize existential depression solely by its negative outcomes. Existential depression can help a person understand their values ​​and identity.

Existential anxiety and existential depression are closely related. Although most people experience existential anxiety at some point in their lives, not all people experience existential depression.

existential fear

Existential fears are not uncommon. It’s likely that most people will at some point become overwhelmed by life’s mysteries. It’s not uncommon to feel distressed about the unanswerability of questions like “What is the meaning of life?” and “Why do bad things happen?”

Many people face challenges in life that force them to question themselves and their beliefs. The death of a loved one, a diagnosis of illness, the breakup of a relationship, or any other type of trauma can cause a person to question the very foundations of their life.

However, existential anxiety usually passes with time, and people can generally manage it with introspection and support from others.

existential depression

Unlike existential anxiety, existential depression causes persistent symptoms that affect a person’s quality of life.

However, it can develop from existential anxiety. Repeatedly running through unknown existential questions can lead to depressive symptoms, such as:

  • hopelessness
  • despair
  • Difficulty maintaining relationships
  • loss of meaning
  • loss of happiness
  • Thoughts of suicide and death
  • loss of motivation
  • dissatisfaction with life
  • loss of identity

Coping skills can help a person break the cycle of existential anxiety and depression.


research suggests that practicing mindfulness can help a person minimize their brooding thoughts and worries. These are important factors in existential depression.

create meaning

as research indicates that a lack of meaning can lead to depressive symptoms, a person may be able to recognize and create meaning on purpose. They can do this by focusing on the people and situations closest to them. Making choices that affect their smaller reality can help them regain a sense of purpose.

Use uncertainty to grow

As positive disintegration theory suggests, existential depression can be useful in helping a person grow and arrive at a new, more authentic self. Approaching difficult situations with questions can help a person redefine existential depression.

Seek professional help

A person may find it helpful to consult a psychologist.

Some therapists have formal training in existential therapy. This type of therapy does not focus on solving problems, since existential problems are inherently unsolvable. Instead, it emphasizes the importance of processing thoughts and experiences to reduce fear of the unknown.

More traditional forms of therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may also overlap with existential therapy. research shows that CBT can be helpful in treating existential concerns.

A person can develop existential depression when they cannot stop thinking about unanswerable existential questions. Individuals may feel hopeless and fear that life has no meaning or purpose.

A person may be able to cope with existential depression by using mindfulness techniques, creating their own meaning in life, and seeking professional help.


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