Existential Depression often affects people with high intellectual potential. It is these profiles who suffer from the weight of injustices, who do not find meaning in their life and who suffer from isolation because they see and feel the world in a different way from others.
What meaning does this world have? Why are there so many injustices and inequalities? Family, work, friends… Is there anything more important in this life? Questions like this are the ones that lead to what is known as existential depression. It is a type of condition that appears in people who are very intellectual or characterized by their high intellectual potential.
Depression comes in many forms. It is conditioned by infinite variables and each patient experiences it in a particular and different way. So, and although we have all heard of existential crises, it should be emphasized that this reality is something more complex. A crisis can arise as an effect of an adverse experience, just as it can enter a new stage in our life cycle.
Nevertheless, existential depression, first described in the 1950s by psychiatrist Heinz Häfner, evokes a type of disorder that is particularly present in the population of great talent. The DSM-5, a diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, however, does not mention it.
These are the people who don’t seem to find meaning in life. They are profiles who are excessively interested in dimensions such as death, lack of freedom, social injustices and this abyss where existence becomes lonely and everyone feels disconnected from what surrounds it.
In such states, it is the reasoning itself and the obsessive thoughts that will undermine the balance to the point of weakening the emotional fabric of the person.
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Existential Depression: Origin and Characteristics
Jean-Paul Sartre said that we do not know what we want but that we are all the same responsible for what we are. Existentialist philosophy is still a great benchmark for most of those mental processes, reflections and personal labyrinths in which patients suffering from existential depression roam.
Kazimierz Dabrowski, a Polish psychiatrist from the beginning of the 20th century, was one of the referents who most studied the problems often encountered by people with high intellectual potential. This expert referred to what is known as “positive disintegration“. This would somehow explain one of the origins of this condition.
The problem of confronting what we are with what surrounds us
Kazimierz Dabrowski has established that we can go through five stages of personal development. Admittedly, a good part of the population (between 60 and 70% according to the author) remains in the initial phase, in other words the stage of primary integration. In this phase, we limit ourselves, little by little, to adjusting to the “mold” of society. We discipline ourselves, so to speak, and we integrate our mistakes. We adapt to the good and not so good things that our environment offers us.
Certainly, there are people who get stuck at the third level of Dabrowski’s theory. It is the one that refers to spontaneous disintegration. There are great contradictions between values and what society defines. The gaze of the person with high intellectual potential feels the weight of injustice, hypocrisy, excessive materialism.
If these dimensions have a considerable influence on the person, he will therefore be in the fourth phase, which Dabrowski says is called multilevel disintegration. There, the human being finds no meaning in his life. Little by little, he turns into a simple observer who notices only errors, nonsense and a void which sooner or later will suffocate him.
The four dimensions that describe Existential Depression
Irvin David Yalom, professor of psychiatry at Stanford University and psychotherapist, is another expert who has looked at existential depression. In his book Existential Psychology, he explains these four factors that often determine this reality:
Losing someone and thinking about the meaning of death can undoubtedly be a trigger. However, in and of itself, it is not useful for the diagnosis of existential depression. We must have other elements. However, suffering the loss of a loved one or less loved one often causes the person with high intellectual potential to begin a process of doubt and reflection on the meaning of death.
Lack of freedom: this is another very important element. It is common for this profile to often wonder why the human being does not have more creative power and achievement. Society always opposes its veto, as an entity that controls and cuts off our wings.
Lack of meaning: this is a dimension that Viktor Frankl tells us about in his book The Man in Search of Meaning. If human beings do not find meaning in their life, nonsense, anxiety and depression appear.
Isolation and loneliness: not feeling understood, perceiving that you see the world in a very different way from the rest of people, leads to isolation and a great void.
What is the cure for existential depression today?
Cognitive behavioral therapy is undoubtedly one of the best approaches to treating existential depression. Nevertheless, it is important not to lose sight of the theory of psychiatrist Kazimierz Dabrowski. The final step in his approach to human development is positive or secondary integration.
It would therefore be essential that we work on this phase which follows the multilevel decay stage. The aspects that compose it are as follows:
Work on our self-awareness: clarify our goals, desires, needs, values, etc.
Define and work on our meaning of life: setting a goal in our horizon and working with it gives us impetus, helps us find motivation, breath and illusion.
Finally, it is advisable that we learn to adopt a good emotional self-education.
Dabrowski, at the turn of the 20th century, had already understood the importance of good understanding and good emotional management for the realization of the human being. This not only guarantees our well-being but also helps us evolve in every sense of the word. Come to think of it, let’s no longer hesitate to seek professional help if we find ourselves in this situation.