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  • Christy A. George, LMFT, SEP

Life Beyond Existential Depression

depressed woman, woman in window

Imagine you are an emotionally sensitive, altruistic person who deeply contemplates world issues, the meaning life and death, and the future of humanity, and you have a heightened understanding of your limited ability to affect change on any of it. On top of that, few people care as deeply as you do or fully understand the breadth of your concerns. Now imagine you are a child or teen with a limited emotional capacity to fully process this mature and complex information you are aware of. Maybe you don’t have to imagine, because this has been your life experience.

Highly gifted people are often able to recognize best possible outcomes others cannot see, and are often unwilling to consider. Sometimes, these bright, visionaries are left feeling isolated, rejected and hopeless for the future as a result, which can lead to a state of existential depression. While it can start at any age, it usually begins in middle or high school when people begin to explore their identity, are seeking belonging within a group, and are contemplating how they fit into the world. While they may be intellectually brilliant, their brains are still developing and their emotional capacity is likely to be underdeveloped.

Young people who are struggling with existential depression are at a greater risk of becoming suicidal if they are not supported by those close to them. If they are rejected by family, peers and others they may feel there is no place for them in this world, and there is no point in trying to make a difference. As their sense of alienation grows, so does their sense of hopelessness and likeliness to give up for good.

Research indicates gifted people are not inherently more likely to become depressed than others. Existential depression, is different than other types of depression, however. Depression among gifted people is often triggered by environmental stressors like a lack of support and understanding from family, peers and in the academic environment. Existential depression, on the other hand, is generally triggered by internal stressors like metacognition (analyzing one’s own thought process), a deep desire to make a difference, a search for meaning and belonging, while feeling isolated and powerlessness.

You can help your loved one to feel less disconnected and more empowered by letting them know others share their feelings, values and ideas and encourage them to get involved in causes they care about. Teach your children and teens they are not personally responsible for saving the world, but can act together with others to make a difference. Teach them even the small things they do matter, such as being kind to others, caring for the environment and helping out when needed. This can help them to feel more connected, and will nurture their desire and ability to make a difference in the world they are a part of.

If you are an adult attempting to cope with existential depression, you are not alone, either. You can effectively connect with the world around you by helping others, becoming involved in something you care about and by seeking out others who share your interests and values. And don’t be afraid to reach out to a caring and skilled professional who understands the needs of gifted people to help you in your journey.

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