Nihilism & depression (A complete guide)

In this article, we will talk about nihilism and depression. This is a comprehensive guide where we will begin by getting to know what is nihilistic depression, what does nihilism mean, the signs of nihilistic depression, and how to overcome it. 

What is nihilistic depression?

Many people state that a belief system where a person declares there is no meaning to life happens because of depression. Or because of depression, their thoughts are influenced into nihilistic beliefs.

After you’ve enjoyed the Nihilism & depression mentioned below, I would recommend you to take a look at Atheism and Depression too.

All living things on this planet are goal-driven. The kind of goals differ for every creature, but the most basic goal is to survive and finding reasons to survive. We are wired that way. Achieving our goals gives us neurochemical reinforcement, which leads to the development and maintenance of a reward pathway. We keep doing that to feel an enhanced sense of self. Many times, people temporarily lose the feeling of reward, and the neurochemicals produced are inadequate or absent which is one of the neurochemical causes of depression.  

Also, in the natural state, all animals have a level of motivation. It differs from person to person as a trait and can be altered depending on external situations, but it is intrinsically present. A complete state of indifference, complete lack of motivation, and enthusiasm in life is considered as a deviation from what is ‘normal’. Most psychological illnesses state a lack of ‘appetite’ for life as a cause of concern. 

Having said that, not all nihilists are depressed. It is essentially a belief system of an individual and that cannot always be correlated/linked to the presence of a mental illness.   

What is nihilism?

“Nihilism” is derived from the Latin word nihil, which means nothing, that which does not exist. Nihil is also a part of the verb “annihilate,” which means to bring to nothing, to destroy completely. 

Nihilism is a philosophical point of view where people believe that there is no meaning to life and take reality at face value. They do not like to bestow any meaning behind the existence of the universe or their/human existence. The dictionary definition of nihilism is “a belief that all political and religious organizations are bad or a system of thought that says that there are no principles or beliefs that have any meaning or can be true.”

People who hold nihilistic thoughts are called nihilists. 

According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated. It is often associated with extreme pessimism and a radical skepticism that condemns existence. A true nihilist would believe in nothing, have no loyalties, and no purpose other than, perhaps, an impulse to destroy.” 

From 1860-1917, in Russia, nihilism took the form of a loosely organized social revolutionary movement. The supporters of this movement rejected the church, the presence of a god, the social system of families, and the law-enforcing or governing authorities. In one of his literary works, the anarchist leader Mikhael Bakunin wrote something that is still revered by nihilists. He wrote, “Let us put our trust in the eternal spirit which destroys and annihilates only because it is the unsearchable and eternally creative source of all life–the passion for destruction is also a creative passion!”. The movement advocated people to develop a belief system that is based on rationalism and materialism and the foundation to human existence. They urged people to understand how religious beliefs brought in irrational ideas and robbed people of individual freedom and knowledge. The movement eventually dissolved. 

The most popular philosopher with nihilistic views was Fredrich Nietzsche. He publicly stated that “Every belief, everything considered as something-true, is necessarily false because there is simply no true world” and to develop nihilistic thoughts one must do the work of deconstructing all their conditioning received from the outside world about faith, religion, the meaning of life, purpose in life, government and morality.  

The signs of nihilistic depression to watch out

Depression can be noticed when a person experiences persistent states of sadness, guilt, being tearful, being aloof or distant or difficulty being alone at all, avoiding emotional conversations, using diversions to prevent themselves from engaging in conversations about self and emotions. The person may also experience physical symptoms like body aches, headaches, fatigue, etc. These symptoms should be consistently present for two weeks or more. In the case of nihilistic depression, the person’s depression is caused because of or is triggered by nihilistic beliefs. Or, their depression leads them to develop nihilistic beliefs.  

Following are some specific signs to take note of: 

An intense feeling that they are unwanted 

Nihilism is not well received by society, at large. It is considered a very negative and reductionist approach to life and living. Many nihilists do not get support from their own families too; even in times of suffering in depression because they reject the institution of family itself. This leads to a feeling of being unwanted and unappreciated in the world.  

Exhaustion 

People with nihilism depression may often feel exhausted and tired. On top of their depression, their nihilistic beliefs may add to their suffering. They may also experience a lack of motivation to keep moving forward because they believe everything is, essentially, meaningless.   

Inability to focus on tasks 

The majority of their time is spent thinking about what is the point of life when it is meaningless which can inhibit them to transfer their attention and focus onto other tasks/chores. 

Lack of enthusiasm in day-to-day tasks 

Because of a lack of meaning and purpose in life, people with nihilism depression may lack the enthusiasm to perform everyday tasks.  

Suicidal thoughts or suicidal attempts

Pondering too much about the lack of meaning in existence, baseless value system, faith can turn one suicidal. Rejecting or attempting to reject all the foundations to life the person built in their growing years can push them over the edge into existential crisis and depression. 

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How to overcome nihilism depression

Acknowledge your choices 

Know that not choosing to believe in a popularly accepted belief is also a choice. You may not believe in the concept of destiny or purpose in life but know that you can choose every day how you want to shape your life. What you’ll be tomorrow depends on the choices you make today. You are what you think. 

This is not to say that a person’s state of depression is a choice. But, to know that the locus of control is within you, there is power in personal choice and freedom essentially is the ability to choose your choices can be liberating for anybody. And, even though people inherently know it, it is good to be reminded of this fact.     

Develop a strong core belief 

Many people with nihilistic depression spend a whole lot of their time trying to reinforce their nihilistic beliefs upon others who negate it, or they drown themselves in questions about life. If you are nihilistic, develop a belief system where you hold onto a purpose of living in a way that matches your nihilistic beliefs. Many nihilists believe in materialism and rationalism which then drives them in life.   

Talk to a mentor/coach who shares a belief system as you do 

Having a belief system that is different from others is not wrong but enforcing your belief system on others or (your own self when you really do not believe in it) is wrong. A mentor/ coach who shares your belief system might help you with your depression. Your depression may be arising or might be triggered because of the lack of clarity in life about your ownself .i.e. Having an identity crisis.  

A mentor might guide you by explaining more about what is the school of thought, how you could make yourself more knowledgeable about it, etc. This can help with gaining clarity of what you want to believe in life.  

Consult a psychiatrist 

A psychiatrist can prescribe medication, for example, antidepressants based on the severity of the condition of the person. Antidepressants are an important part of recovery and going to a professional should not be delayed. Be sure you talk to the psychiatrist about all your symptoms, including worsened mood, sleep hygiene, fatigue, etc.    

Seek mental health therapy 

Consulting a counselor/ psychotherapist is essential in mental health issues. This, most often, goes hand in hand with medication based on the severity of depression. 

A counselor can bring in newer ways of perception, help the person to emote better while engaging in healthy boundary-making. Discussions with a counselor can also include how to rewire your thoughts about nihilism which could be the factor triggering your depression. The counselor can also help the person reframe their irrational thoughts and beliefs into healthier ways of thinking and being. The counselor and the client, together, also work on and construct healthier coping mechanisms against stressors for the client. 

Improve lifestyle choices and work towards good health

Health is a concept with many interlinkages and it is also all-encompassing. One can’t expect to have good mental health if their physical health is deteriorating and vice-versa. Exercising, healthy eating habits, good sound sleep, and practicing mindfulness, along with any medication/therapy if need be, can help attain victory over any condition, including depression.

Conclusion 

In this article, we talked about nihilism and depression. We began by getting to know what is nihilism depression, what does nihilism mean, the signs of nihilism depression, and how to overcome it. 

Frequently asked questions: Nihilism Depression 

Do nihilists have emotions?

Yes, of course. Nihilists are humans too with emotions, aspirations, goals, and needs; the only difference is that they believe that their actions do not hold an inherent value or are unnecessary. 

Do nihilists believe in god?

No. Belief in a higher power like God is contrary to the beliefs a nihilist holds. A nihilist believes that there are no absolutes – no absolute meaning or purpose for life, no absolute moral standards. 

Can nihilists love?

Yes, of course, they can. Anyone who denies the presence of a natural and powerful emotion as love, is denying the ability of living creatures to do basic things like eating, bathe, etc. nihilists can love, do love, and are worthy of love. 

What do nihilists believe about death?

Because nihilists believe in “nothingness”, they believe that death is just ceasing to physically exist and nothing more. They do not like to link death with the concept of life because it is “nothing”. If after our physical death there is “nothing” then when we die we will not experience calm or peace or pain or distress, we will not experience anything because we will not exist. Therefore, beliefs about concepts like ‘life after death’, ‘the afterlife’, ‘heaven & hell’ are not present. 

What we recommend for depression

Professional counselling

If you are suffering from depression then ongoing professional counselling may be your ideal first point of call. Counselling will utilize theories such as Cognitive behavioral therapy which will help you live a more fulfilling life.

References

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