Existential Depression (A guide)

In this article, we will present existential depression, its symptoms, and causes.

You will also find some tips that can help you to deal with depression. 

What is Existential Depression?

Existential depression is a reactive depression with the dominance of ideas of a person about the complete hopelessness and meaninglessness of his/her future existence.

It is closely connected to the existential crisis. The opposite of existential depression is nihilism.

The Significance of Existential Crisis

An existential crisis is when a person begins to ask questions: what does life mean?

What is its meaning? What is the purpose of life in general?

These can be the most significant changes in the patterns of thinking when a person wants to get answers to eternal questions of life.

Existential means connected to existence and being.

Etymologically, the “existential crisis” came from a combination of two words: from the Latin existere/exsistere – to arise, appear, exist + the Latinized form of Greek krisis – a turning point in the 

disease, a moment of change towards recovery or death.

Existential vacuum

Existential vacuum is the psychological state of a person who has lost the meaning of life.

It is an inability to find or create meaning of life, and it is provided by the feelings of hopelessness, emptiness, alienation, and uselessness.

Signs of Existential Depression

Signs of existential depression are:

  • Constant thoughts about life and death, the meaning and the purpose of life and existence,
  • Lack of interest almost in everything,
  • Feelings of loneliness, alienation, emptiness, hopelessness, and worthlessness,
  • Low energy,
  • Lack of motivation,
  • Anxiety,
  • Suicidal thoughts.

The Ultimate Existential Concerns by Irvin Yalom

American famous existential psychiatrist Irvin Yalom propounded four ultimate existential concerns, which are considered the leading causes of existential depression:


Death is the most obvious, most easily recognized finite reality. Death will come, and there is no escape from it.

This is a terrifying truth that fills us with “deadly” fear. Death is the primary source of normal, neurotic, and existential anxiety.

Anxiety associated with death, fear of ceasing to exist can be both conscious and subconscious.

From early childhood, people are incredibly concerned about the inevitability of death.

The intense anxiety associated with death can probably be suppressed; for this, people raise a defense based on the denial of death.

To a large extent, the development of mental pathology is due to unsuccessful attempts to go beyond death.

The first existential conflict is the conflict between the awareness of the inevitability of death and the desire to continue living: the conflict between the fear of non-existence and the desire to be.


Usually, freedom seems to be a pure positive phenomenon. However, freedom as a primary cause gives rise to horror.

In an existential sense, “freedom” is the absence of an external structure. Everyday life has a comforting illusion that we come to a well-organized universe, arranged according to a specific plan.

The individual takes full responsibility for his world – in other words, he/she himself/herself is its creator.

From this point of view, “freedom” implies a terrifying fact: we do not rely on any soil; under us is nothing, emptiness, abyss.

The discovery of this void conflicts with our need for soil and structure. People are “doomed to freedom.”

Existential isolation

No matter how close we are to someone, the last insurmountable abyss always remains between us: each of us comes into the world alone and leaves it alone.

Generating existential conflict is the conflict between the absolute conscious isolation and the need for contact, for protection, and for belonging to a larger whole.

If the psychotherapist-patient relationship, characterized by devotion and authenticity, helps patients in opposing and reconciling existential isolation, it can be confidently concluded that patients lacked such relationships in their past.


We must die; we structure our universe; each of us is fundamentally lonely in the indifferent world.

What is then the meaning of our existence?

Why do we live? How to live?

If nothing is primordially predetermined, it means each of us must create his life plan.

However, can this own creation be strong enough to sustain our lives?

This dynamic existential conflict is generated by a dilemma facing a meaning-seeking creature thrown into a meaningless world.

People require consistency, the purpose of meaning. They organize random stimuli into image and base.

The neuropsychological organization of people is such that they tend to look for patterns and meanings.

Tips to Deal With Existential Depression

Existential depression is a kind of gray depression. However, there are ways to overcome it.

Below you can find some tips that may be helpful to deal with existential depression:


Psychotherapy or talk therapy can be beneficial if you are struggling with the mentioned depression.

It is especially recommended cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps a person to recognize his/her irrational and distorted thoughts, changing them with rational ones.

You can go to an individual or group therapy.

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)

ECT or electroconvulsive therapy is used for mental illnesses, such as major depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.

It can be sufficient to treat existential depression, as well.

Electroconvulsive therapy assumes attachment of small electrodes to head, which sends electrical impulses to the brain, intentionally triggering a brief seizure.

Find your passion

If you have lost your interest in activities or things you enjoyed, try to find something new.

Maybe there is something that always made you curious, but you did not try for some reason; try it now.

Try to find some activity that could be interesting for you, and try it.

Make the death a motivation

Death is something you cannot avoid besides postponing, so what should you do?

Make death a motivation to live. Try to remember the primary purpose of your life or your dreams, which you had before the depression.

Realize that you (and all other people) do not live forever, so try to make your most prominent dream come true.

Do your steps without postponing, start with small steps, and act to reach your aims as long as you live.

  1. Existential Psychotherapy
  2. Irvin D. Yalom: On Psychotherapy and the Human Condition (Working Biographies)
  3. Man’s Search for Meaning
  4. Existential Depression
  5. HFNE “Key to Happiness”
  6. HFNE “Is depression hereditary?”

FAQs about the topic “Existential depression.”

What does it mean to have an existential crisis?

Having an existential crisis means always thinking about life and death, thinking that life has no purpose and is meaningless.

It also assumes feelings of hopelessness, loneliness, worthlessness, and emptiness, as well as alienation.

What does existential mean?

Existential means connected to existence and being. Etymologically, the word “existentia” comes from Latin existere/exsistere, which means to arise, appear, and exist.

What is existential ennui?

Existential ennui is means a lack of desire to do anything.

If boredom captures more and more space, this suggests that the meaning of life has also been lost.

Means you should think and try to find your life purpose; if you are in a condition that it is hard for you, you should meet a professional psychologist or psychotherapist, who can help you to find it.

How do existentialists find meaning in life?

Existentialists work with people through therapies, helping to realize that they (people) make themselves throughout their lives, understand that they have a freedom to choose (make decisions and choose their path in life), and realize that because the world is holistic, whatever people decide to do, it will affect on them, on surrounding people and the whole world.

Existentialists also explain that the existence is temporary; they talk about death and help people realize that because there is death, they should LIVE their lives, making choices, and fulfilling their dreams and aims.

What is existential anxiety?

Existential anxiety is a sense of fear, or horror, which may accompany the choice, including the unknown.

What is the opposite of existentialism?

The opposite of existentialism is nihilism.

Nihilism is a philosophy that calls into question generally accepted values, ideals, norms of morality, and culture.

Nihilism, in the general sense, implies denial, a negative attitude towards specific or even all aspects of social life.


Existential depression is a reactive depression with the dominance of ideas of a person about the complete hopelessness and meaninglessness of his/her future existence.

It is closely connected to the existential crisis.

The leading causes of existential depression are the four ultimate existential concerns: death, freedom, existential isolation, and meaningfulness.

To deal with existential depression, you should go to CBT sessions, ETD, find your passion, or make the death a motivation.

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  1. Existential depression
  2. Existential depression: What it is and how to overcome it