Depression is a word familiar to us all and is a mental health condition experienced by countless individuals in varying ways and degrees of severity. It is so widespread that it’s often referred to as the common cold of mental health. However, this metaphor fails to address the scope of depression; it is not limited to the mind but instead affects all aspects of one’s being and is indeed a holistic disorder.
From a mental health standpoint, traditional clinical depression is characterized by persistent feelings of deep sadness, despair, irritability, agitation, and frustration. These feelings may manifest in a myriad of symptoms: decreased interest in previously enjoyed activities, sleeping and eating disturbances, fatigue, low motivation, concentration and memory difficulties, unexplained physical pains and symptoms, and in some extreme cases, suicidal thoughts or attempts.
No one is immune from depression, yet women experience it two to three times more frequently than men. Medical research1 has revealed multiple causes of depression, some of which include genetics, hormonal imbalances, external situations, seasonal changes, and low self-worth. At present, there is no cure for depression, and current treatment modalities often include medication and various forms of psychotherapy, which can provide relief from symptoms for many people.
However, there is another largely unknown variety of depression and for which medication and traditional counseling methods are often ineffective. Existential depression can occur when the individual begins to question their very existence, and ponders weighty life issues such as, “Why am I here? What is my purpose? Who or what am I? Is there anything beyond this life? Does my life even matter?” In examining these existential questions, the individual may begin to feel that life is essentially meaningless, which can then lead to existential depression in some people.
Unlike traditional clinical depression, existential depression involves a hopelessness intimately related to the fact of one’s actual existence. Because of this, existential depression can be considered a manifestation of a spiritual emergence, or crisis.
Symptoms of existential depression can mimic those of clinical depression, but may also include:
- An intense desire to explore profound questions about purpose, meaning, life and death
- Losing interest in everyday life, because it seems meaningless
- Experiencing numbness or emptiness
- Intolerance for others’ behavior, impatient of others
- Frustration and anxiety about the world and society in general
- The feeling of being a misfit and misunderstood
- An increasing desire for solitude and isolation, and disconnecting from others
Although external events can trigger existential depression, it often appears to be uncaused, making it difficult for traditional therapies to be…