Depression is a subject that is frequently studied, written about, and discussed. However, fewer people have experienced or heard stories of cases of a form of this mental health condition known as existential depression—one reason why those who experience it can feel neglected, alienated, and underrepresented. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the term “existential” from a philosophical perspective as being “concerned with existence, especially human existence…”
At its core, existential depression is a type of spiritual crisis. It can be crippling, intense, pervasive, and highly personal in nature. Most individuals who experience existential depression feel numb, lost, and empty inside. These persons often tend to be deep thinkers and feelers who want to understand the meaning of life and the nature of existence.
Clinically, existential depression often falls into a nebulous or grey area, as it is often considered not to have an identifiable cause. However, experiencing internal or external trauma appears to provoke it.
Signs of Existential Depression
Signs of existential depression include the following:
- Continuous deep or profound thoughts about the nature and meaning of life
- An intense need to answer ostensibly unanswerable questions such as “What is the purpose of our existence?” or “What happens after we die?”
- Intense dissatisfaction with the state of society
- Feeling disconnected from others, little social contact
- Feeling misunderstood and on a different intellectual level than others
- Chronic and extreme loneliness
- Sensations of being numb, dead, or empty inside
- Disinterest in social contact and activities because it seems shallow or petty
- Low, melancholic moods
- Lack of interest in other pursuits or activities
- Lack of motivation or enthusiasm
- Low energy and chronic fatigue, lethargy
- Nihilism, or the feeling or belief that existence and actions are meaningless
- Contemplation of suicide or suicide attempts
Talk Therapy May Not Be Enough
Many individuals suffering from existential depression have already sought out various psychotherapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy. However, it may not have worked for them because no matter how much medication, counseling, or analysis they underwent, their profound feeling of being disconnected from the natural and spirit worlds never left. In this instance, a person may feel even more hopeless and alone than before they attempted anything.
But the actual failure lies not with the patient but with certain psychotherapeutic methods and the blanket treatment of all forms of depression as being nearly identical in terms of the approaches used. Existential depression can’t be entirely healed using standard methodologies because it is not physical, biological, or hormonal—it is spiritual in nature. This means that it has to do with the deep and intense obsession with understanding the meaning of life, death, and all of existence.
What Causes Existential Depression?
As noted, the clinical understanding of existential depression is typically that of a vague and uncaused mental illness that is not biological, seasonal, hormonal, or related to self-esteem. But this is a highly superficial definition and one that is based on the limited insight of modern psychiatric professionals.
However, existential depression is historically more oft considered a crisis or loss of the soul. Moreover, it is a point in life in which individuals become markedly aware of the profound disconnection we have with our souls.
Loss of Soul as the Root Cause
A person’s soul, spiritually speaking, is his or her most profound and most actual and authentic self. It is each individual’s fount of love, joy, caring, creativity, passion, spiritual well-being, and interconnectedness. When one loses touch with their soul, they also lose touch with their innate potential for divineness. And when this occurs, the person undergoing this process tends to feel lost, hopeless, alone, and empty inside.
How Is Soul Loss Experienced?
Soul loss, and as a result, existential depression, can happen for several reasons. Common causes include the following:
- Negative societal conditioning
- Childhood trauma
- Experiencing a tragedy or hardship
- Grieving over the loss of a loved one
- Undergoing a sudden and profound life change
Some factors do not acutely trigger soul loss, and instead, they are more chronic. These include being raised with little or no values, being unemployed or underemployed or working at a trivial, unfulfilling, or thankless job, or enacting decisions that do not align with connectedness with the soul. This can include substance and abuse and addiction in any form, maltreatment of others, not caring about one’s environment, etc.
Usually, however, individuals can trace back to something definite that triggered existential depression, although not everyone can do this. Understanding what caused the spiritual crisis in the first place is the initial step to finding and fostering inner peace.
Existential Depression and Addiction
All too often, any form of depression can serve as a gateway into substance abuse, and there are many reasons for this. It is well known that individuals who suffer from all manners of depression often turn to alcohol or drugs to escape the adverse effects of this potentially severe mental, emotional, or spiritual health disorder. But depressed persons who do not seek treatment will remain so to a greater extent as long as they do not seek the proper treatment AND, in the case of experiential depression, spiritual guidance.
The Elements of Addiction
Tolerance: Upon repeated use of a substance, the body gets used to its presence and requires ever-increasing doses to achieve the same effects.
Dependence: Upon repeated use of a substance, the body gradually becomes unable to function correctly without it, thereby leading to withdrawal.
Withdrawal: With reduced drug use, one becomes nauseous, shaky, nervous, agitated, depressed, or experiences insomnia.
Irrational Substance Use: A person continues compulsively seeking and using drugs or alcohol despite have incurred adverse consequences as a result.
Relapse: When a person attempts to quit taking the substance, they will be driven back to use multiple times due to withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
Treatment for substance abuse and depression must be conducted in conjunction using complementary approaches. Depression needs to be addressed if a person is to recover from an addiction-related behavior. Relapsing after rehab means regressing to addiction-related behavior that contributes to severe conditions, such as existential depression.
Overcoming Existential Depression and Addiction
Due to the number of people who have received a dual diagnosis, these individuals may be less likely to seek and receive the treatment required to manage their mental/emotional/spiritual problems effectively. Increasing the intake of drugs or alcohol will not make depression better, and in fact, it might make it worse. A person who suffers from depression will likely find it challenging to overcome a drinking problem, especially when they are also afflicted by some form of depression that is untreated or unresolved.
Treating patients with a dual diagnosis can be quite complex. It is well known that individuals with a dual diagnosis often cannot receive the proper treatment in certain rehab programs, resulting in non-optimal outcomes. It is only across multiple spiritual, supportive, and health and wellness-related communities that one is most likely to locate a treatment program equipped to manage drug and alcohol addiction health issues.
Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery addiction treatment centers in Florida understand the challenges dual diagnosis health care produces. Our specialized facility works with individuals who struggle with all forms of depression and substance abuse and help them restore happiness and sobriety to their lives.
We offer an integrated, comprehensive approach to both mental health and addiction disorders. Evidence-based services and activities we provide include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Behavioral therapy
- Individual counseling
- Family counseling
- Peer group support
- Health and wellness education
- Relapse prevention
- Art and music therapy
- Aftercare planning
- Alumni events and activities