The Puzzle of Existence and Depression


If you experience depression, you will want to understand what existential depression is. It may be a factor in, or source of your symptoms. Existential depression can occur when an individual confronts or contemplates issues of human existence. Irvin Yalom describes the four basic existential issues as: meaninglessness, freedom, death, and isolation.

The contemplation of these concepts is a minefield of paradox, u-turns, dead-ends, and roads that end at the beginning of another one. Our thinking mind is out-matched by the questions we are considering.

The Four Existential Issues

  1. FREEDOM involves the idea that we each must give the world its structure by creating it; a daunting task.
  2. DEATH is an inevitable occurrence and uncomfortable to contemplate.
  3. Realizing that no matter how close our relationships with others are we remain physically separate beings can provoke a sense ISOLATION.
  4. A combination of freedom, death, and isolation issues may stir-up a sense of MEANINGLESSNESS within individuals.

People who experience existential depression prior to middle age are usually those prone to contemplation or reflection on life’s “big questions.” Because they imagine how things might be many are idealists. Simultaneously, they realize how little the world matches its potential. Contemplatives also pick up on absurdity, hypocrisy, and the arbitrariness of the world.

It is impossible to deal with existential questions in a concrete manner. Goals and action steps will not provide answers although action is a perfect compliment to contemplation.

In trying to make sense of existence and live peacefully with the questions, we can get sucked further into them. The result is wondering what the point of living is if we are only an insignificant bit of humanity living in an unfair world where the only certainty is death. Sounds depressing, doesn’t it?

Existential Depression Tips

  1. No matter how isolated you feel, there are people who understand what you are experiencing. You are not alone in feeling drained of motivation when confronting the limitations of space-time, and the apparent meaninglessness of existence.
  2. Many people have traveled the existential path and ultimately led bumpy but very rich lives. One way to make the trail less bumpy is to embrace life’s mysteries. You might ache to have answers, but life is more enjoyable when the mystery is accepted and your intuitive antennae remains up to receive random insight.
  3. Anyone with existential depression will benefit from the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is an alert, observational state of being and is the perfect refuge after reflecting on the puzzle of existence. The habit of mindfulness also prevents an individual from spending too much time working the puzzle.
  4. Many people jump into social, political, or spiritual causes to give structure and meaning to their lives. Just be aware that immersion in a cause will not satisfy existential questions for those who continue to contemplate them. Boxing with life’s big questions is a lifelong process.
  5. If you struggle with existential issues and depression, you might consider seeing a therapist that understands and is comfortable working with existential depression.
  6. Yalom, I. D. (1980). Existential Psychotherapy. New York: Basic Books.


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