Existential Depression: Diagnosis, Signs, Symptoms and Treatment

existential depression

Do you ever question your life’s purpose or if you are on the right path? This kind of inquiry frequently elicits strong emotions, such as fear and unease.

It is natural to wonder what you’re doing with your life, mainly if you are adolescent and ambitious.

You may begin to feel anxiety or uncertainty as you struggle to answer these questions and manage the pain and anguish. Although you may have to confront your circumstances at some time, you may also discover self-acceptance and your true identity.

Regardless of how hard you attempt to answer the questions mentioned above, they may leave you feeling confused and anxious about yourself or your future. When no explanations are available, you may experience more than merely fear.

When your ideas negatively influence your well-being, they might lead to existential depression and fear. Existential depression is a well-known and dangerous condition that may significantly influence your thoughts, feelings, and attitude in life.

The concept of existential depression is explained below and the symptoms that you may encounter if you are suffering from existential depression.

It is critical to understand what you can do to manage such ideas and behaviors that lead you to feel this way, coping skills for anxiety, and medical treatments, so continue reading to learn more about it.

The concept behind existential depression

Existential depression occurs when a person’s depression is triggered by questions about the meaning and purpose of life or death.

According to Existential Philosophy, humans are motivated to find intrinsic significance in their lives; we want to choose and pursue activities that have meaning for us. (1)

To comprehend existential depression, you must first grasp what existentialism is. Existentialism is a vast philosophical movement centered on the premise that life is what we make it and that we have the liberty and duty, as humans, to determine and build our existence. (2) Because we are entirely autonomous beings, we are solely responsible for our happiness or suffering. As a result, we attempt to find significance in all facets of our life.

Existential depression can occur when dealing with freedom, death, or life questions. If you find yourself thinking questions such as, “Is my life merely to work, have family, and die?” you may be struggling with existential depression. You might also ask any other question prompted by a sense of pessimism or a notion that your life has no value.

Those who suffer from a major depressive disorder such as melancholic depression (3) may also struggle with existential crises and thoughts. Many psychologists and health care practitioners will give counseling not simply to address depression but also to examine life’s purpose with the patient, which can assist the patient in finding the meaning you seek in life.

What exactly is existential depression?

The term existential depression refers to depressive symptoms that might occur due to an existential crisis.

During an existential crisis, you may begin to wonder what your life’s purpose is and whether your existence has any more profound value. You may be concerned about whether you are focused on the good things in life or whether you are making blunders.

These existential concerns might sometimes pass swiftly, allowing you to proceed with your life. In some instances, asking particular questions might elicit feelings of shame, despair, and fear, which can remain in your mind and influence your thoughts and actions. When these sentiments lead to the onset of depressive symptoms, this is called existential depression. (4)

Existential depression is a frightening experience that should be appropriately addressed. When you are consistently thinking about life and death, you are more prone to experience specific symptoms of depression, which might aggravate your condition.

It is essential to realize that not all existential crises result in existential depression. A person’s negative symptoms may be triggered by one or several ideas or situations. Depression is a very curable mental health problem. (5) The appropriate treatment and support may well treat existential depression.

Existential depression can impact everyone, but specialists believe it is more frequent in brilliant individuals. (6) Many historical luminaries, including Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, Charles Dickens, etc., have struggled from existential depression.

It is crucial to remember that studies on existential depression are limited, which means we do not know as much about it as other forms of depression.  However, many mental health practitioners identify existential depression as a disorder and have treated persons with existential mental health concerns.


When you mention clinical depression, you refer to particular symptoms that a mental health specialist might consider when making a diagnosis. Depression symptoms can interfere with your capacity to function regularly, including how you perceive yourself and others. If you have symptoms for more than two weeks, a mental health practitioner may make a clinical depression diagnosis. (7)

Patients suffering from existential depression may exhibit distinct cognitive processes. Although there may be overlapping symptoms such as tearfulness, sorrow, hopelessness, weariness, and pessimism, existential depression will most likely center on identity, life, and death concerns.

If you are going through an existential crisis and have depression symptoms that have lasted more than two weeks, reaching out to a mental health expert is the best option.

existential depression

Are existential crisis and existential depression the same?

Some experts say existential crises have cognitive factors, such as a loss of purpose or meaning in life. (8)

However, not all existential crises result in a depressive condition. As a result, existential depression and existential crisis are distinct phenomena.

Depression is a treatable mental health disorder and can be appropriately diagnosed. A crisis, on the other hand, is a psychological catastrophe that may result in increased, sometimes excruciating, stress levels. It can also be handled with the assistance of a therapist, but it is not always associated with a disorder.

The primary concern is that can an existential crisis develop into an existential depression?  Although this is probable, it is not usually the case.

A difficult situation may cause people to profoundly contemplate their lives, ideas about mortality or religion, identity, and purpose. Yet, the eventual outcome can contribute to empowerment, consciousness, and affirmation, which may benefit one’s mental well-being.

However, when that’s not the case, an existential crisis can cause high functioning anxiety, powerlessness, resentment, and depression.

If you have continuous existential thoughts that cause you to feel dissatisfied and agitated, you may be experiencing an existential crisis.

If you have had these ideas for more than two weeks and they influence how you view yourself, others and perform in your daily routine, you may have acquired a depressive disorder.

Signs and symptoms of existential depression

It is natural to doubt your existence and purpose in the world after experiencing trauma, grief, religious trauma, a crisis of faith, or any life-altering experience.

Death, acknowledging its inevitability and what occurs afterward, freedom, the overwhelming enormity of choices available to you in life, disassociation from others or the potential loss of valuable relationships, meaninglessness, and wanting to know the point your life has are common topics of existential questioning.

This discovery and its discomfort are sometimes referred to as an existential crisis. (9) When you cannot clear this up or accept the uncertainty of life, you may get overwhelmed by the prospect of living a life devoid of purpose, profound significance, or connection.

According to an older study, existential concerns are one of the eight primary factors people report as a contributing cause to their depression.

Following are a few of the symptoms involved in existential depression:

  • The inability to address existential issues causes sadness and sorrow.
  • Feeling helpless when it comes to providing purpose or change in your life.
  • Insights of death, dying, or suicide regularly.
  • Hopelessness concerning society’s or the world’s fate in general.
  • Experiencing disconnection or detachment in your close relations due to your belief that they will terminate someday.
  • Loss of interest in activities and hobbies that fascinated you, typically due to a perception that they are meaningless.
  • Finding it difficult to interact with people who appear uninterested in existential concerns.
  • Lack of energy or trouble making decisions, frequently due to a sense of being swamped by the options.
  • Feeling suffocated by a pursuit of greater significance.
  • Incapable of progressing from the point of crisis.

You may lose touch with your own beliefs and life objectives due to existential depression, and you may notice that your sense of identity begins to fade and lack clarity.

This combination of shame, impotence, and detachment can make it difficult to maintain connections or do things you used to like, leading to feelings of isolation and meaninglessness.

existential depression

Causes of existential depression

When talking about depression, we usually focus on what caused or provoked it. The particular reason for existential depression is challenging to pinpoint. It might be caused by a single factor or a combination of factors. Biological and hormonal variables can also cause depression. (10)

Existential depression can arise as a consequence of a significant life event, such as a death, an accident, a catastrophic event, or the loss of a career, etc. Existential depression is often associated with postpartum anxiety in women (11) or post-traumatic stress disorder. (12)

It can also happen at different periods of life, like the search for identity as a person progresses from infancy to adolescence and into early adulthood, during a mid-life crisis, when someone is navigating the transition and trying to figure out what it means to be in the middle age.

Existential depression is more common in creative, gifted, and talented persons who actively seek and question life’s purpose. Intellectuals, scientists, sensitive persons, and gifted folks aware of everything around them have that intellectual excitability for information. Gifted children may find it more challenging to navigate life, and they may explore more imaginatively than those of their age.

Existential depression is also seen to be a consequence of a spiritual crisis when someone examines their general belief system and what their soul’s mission or presence in life is for. (13) People may explore existential questions concerning faith or religion in general, as well as a person’s past views regarding the existence of God, heaven or hell, or elsewhere in the cosmos. They might wonder how much of it is genuinely logical.

Why are gifted individuals more likely to suffer from existential depression?

Gifted individuals of any age have characteristics that leave them susceptible to existential depression. (14) They are compassionate, ardent, empathetic, passionate, and more prone than other individuals to study things extensively. When they see injustice, exploitation of others, deprivation, and power abuse in the world, they may feel discouraged and alone and question why many surrounding them look unaffected.

Gifted people may feel detached and distinct from their friends or family members, who appear less contemplative and whose problems appear to be more real, at least on the surface. They are typically acutely aware of dishonesty in the actions and attitudes of others around them, and they are quick to question or criticize what others accept as usual.

existential depression

How to help gifted children with existential depression?

Existential depression can strike children as early as five years old when they realize that they are not eternal. (15)

Many of the questions gifted children ask about the world have no clear solutions. Do not disregard their concerns, accuse them of being overly sensitive, or advise them to have a positive attitude. Instead, affirm their sentiments and reassure them that you are aware of their troubles.

Try to be responsible if your youngster feels helpless to change things in the world. You may look into supporting a charity or getting him interested in volunteer work. It might make children feel like they are part of the solutions rather than the trouble.

Learning about those who have battled injustice or aided underprivileged, suffering people may also serve as an inspiration and role model for children. They will discover how assisting others may make one’s own life worthwhile, rather than feeling trapped and helpless to make a difference and affect change.

How to treat existential depression?

Reaching out for help if your depression lasts more than a few weeks is a choice. Existential depression can be managed in a variety of ways. The following are some of the most efficient treatment methods:


Antidepressants can be a practical therapy choice for severe depressive symptoms. According to psychology research, treating depression by targeting brain chemistry and circuits linking brain chemicals is helpful.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) (16) and tetracyclic antidepressants (17) target different neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin and dopamine, as well as norepinephrine. (18) Medications are frequently considered to treat depression and act instantly, although the effects on depressive symptoms typically take several weeks to function.


Psychotherapy helps alleviate the unsettled and repressed feelings and experiences that might provoke an existential depression. For the unique challenges of existential depression, there are a variety of treatments that may be effective.

Existential therapy is an open-ended therapeutic methodology that relies on processing rather than analyzing previous events to find meaningfulness. Existential therapy can assist you in breaking free from life circumstances that may be imprisoning your mental health. (19)

Logotherapy is a therapeutic method that focuses on finding meaning in one’s life regardless of circumstances. It promotes people’s free freedom to change and find purpose in their lives. (20)

Transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy (TMS)

Transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy (TMS) is a promising treatment option for symptoms of depression, particularly when they are severe and unresponsive to previous therapies.

Magnetic pulses are used in TMS to target and activate the regions of the brain that control mood. Magnetic pulses have been shown to reduce depressive symptoms by influencing brain chemistry levels and interaction between brain chemicals. TMS is a non-invasive therapeutic option for existential depression symptoms that is both safe and effective. (21)

Coping strategies

Making lifestyle and behavioral changes can assist in lessening the severity of existential depression symptoms. To combat existential depression, try the following coping strategies:

  • When you disconnect from your loved ones, you may experience an existential crisis. Spending time with friends and family can help you readjust yourself and lower the severity of your depressive symptoms.
  • Try to avoid dwelling on the past. Instead of obsessing on the past, concentrate on building a better future.
  • Keeping a record of all the things you are grateful for in life is one method to transform your mindset. Noting down the things you are grateful for might help you find purpose in your life over time.
  • Meditation has been shown in studies to help with depression and anxiety. (22) Try practicing mindfulness meditation for five to 15 minutes a day.
  • Exercise can help you feel better by triggering the production of endorphins, which are natural mood stimulants. It can also distract from thoughts and behaviors that exacerbate existential depression. (23)

existential depression


Existential depression is a symptom of existential crisis that emerges from frustration with one’s inability to understand life’s most profound intricacies. Existential depression can be challenging, but gaining a deeper understanding of the mood might help you feel better.

Existential depression is a tough struggle for mental health and well-being; however, there is always a compelling therapy option to explore, irrespective of how severe depressive symptoms are. It is never too late to seek assistance for existential depression, whether via lifestyle modifications or professional treatment.

Table of Contents