Irrational suicide is widely attributed to
There are at least three
basic kinds of depression:
biochemical, situational, & existential.
The most troublesome and least understood of these is existential
But if we understand that being existentially depressed
is a sign of spiritual
progress and depth rather than a mental illness,
then we can take heart that there might be creative ways to deal with
If we come to grips with our existential depression,
we will be less tempted to kill ourselves.
I. BIOCHEMICAL DEPRESSION
II. SITUATIONAL DEPRESSION
III. EXISTENTIAL DEPRESSION
IV. EXISTENTIAL DEPRESSION AND IRRATIONAL SUICIDE
"Depression" has become a widely used expression in
by James Leonard Park
It has become such a broad
term that it covers
just about any kind of distress of body, heart, mind, or spirit.
In the Middle Ages "melancholy" was a similar term,
which included so many kinds of personal problems
that almost everything psychiatry now deals with
would have been called
One major reason that "depression"
is now used for such a wide range of experiences
is that the condition of being depressed is named after
our response to many things that go wrong in our lives.
Many books have been written about depression.
You can find them in your favorite library
under this subject heading: DEPRESSION (Mental).
Here we will quickly dispose of the two
best-understood kinds of depression
(biochemical depression and situational depression)
in order to proceed to the least-discussed form—existential
which will be the basic subject of this exploration.
Existential depression might be at least part
cause of many irrational suicides.
Perhaps one reason existential depression pushes toward foolish
is that existential
yield to any of the methods
appropriate for biochemical
I. BIOCHEMICAL DEPRESSION
Whenever we read that taking anti-depressant drugs
is the solution,
we are probably dealing with a chemical imbalance in our brains.
And if the
primary cause of our feeling of depression
going wrong in the complex chemical systems within our
then taking the most appropriate drugs is obviously the best response.
If a chemical imbalance can
be corrected by taking additional chemicals,
then we might discover that we feel just fine once again.
Biochemical imbalance and its cures
are matters for scientific
well beyond the scope of philosophy.
However, when we take chemicals that dull our
these effects might also be making us less sensitive to our
situational depression or our existential depression.
II. SITUATIONAL DEPRESSION
If we were facing
our own deaths within the next
this would be a depressing situation.
When we know we will not live to see another birthday or another
whenever we are reminded of the fact of our terminal illness,
we find our emotions turning to depression
as a way of coping with the fact that life is coming to an end.
For example, whenever we come to the end of a television program
that has helped us to forget that we are terminally ill,
we remember once again that we are threatened with cancer
or whatever our fatal disease is.
Other (less comprehensive) situations
can also cause
us to fall into deep depression.
For example, we might have been rejected by someone we loved.
And we might begin to feel that we are not worthy to be loved at all.
The loss of love is one of the common causes of irrational suicide.
Some people feel so
overwhelmed by rejection
that they think they ought to kill themselves
because they are so
(Of course, this is completely irrational.
And if they manage to survive for a few more months,
this reason for being depressed will probably pass.)
problems can also cause situational
When we do not have enough income to cover our expenses,
when we face foreclosure or unemployment,
we are understandably depressed.
Whenever we can name what is causing us to
then this should be called situational
or psychological depression.
We can point to changes in our lives
that would cause the depression to lift:
If we are cured of the cancer,
then we are no longer depressed by the threat of imminent death.
If we create a new loving
we no longer find the loss of a previous relationship so
If we can finally solve our
that kind of situational depression disappears.
III. EXISTENTIAL DEPRESSION
But the third kind of depression is much more subtle
than either biochemical depression or situational depression.
In fact, this kind of depression is so obscure,
that it it almost never discussed
in the voluminous literature devoted
Existential depression is not a condition of
chemical imbalance in our brains.
Existential depression is not
caused by any specific situation in our
Rather, we just discover that we are depressed in the depths of our
And the use of anti-depressant drugs only masks this condition.
(Of course this might be a very useful effect,
if we are inclined toward irrational suicide
whenever we notice our existential depression.)
This is not the place for a full exposition of
Several resources are found on the
Existential Depression Portal :
For the rest of this discussion,
we will merely refer to existential depression
without trying to explore the phenomenon more deeply.
Existential depression is free-floating, uncaused,
pervasive, permanent, & incurable.
However, in contrast to the other forms of depression,
existential depression does not indicate that something is wrong
with the individual who is existentially depressed.
On the contrary, being existentially depressed
indicates a high degree of
Only those persons who are most deeply in tune with their inner selves
are able to notice the
depression that has no cause.
IV. EXISTENTIAL DEPRESSION AND IRRATIONAL
All forms of depression—biochemical,
can lead to irrational suicide.
People kill themselves just after they have received
the bad news that they have terminal cancer.
People kill themselves because their spouses have abandoned them for a
And people kill themselves because they have the incurable,
that cannot be traced to anything that went wrong in their brains or in
This deepest kind of depression might cause
many irrational suicides.
We can be depressed for more than one cause (or no cause) at the same
But the worst part of the existential depression
is that nothing we
can do will cure this depression.
When we are stricken by biochemical or situational depression,
there is always something worth trying.
And often we can change our biochemistry or our situation.
But no matter what we try (methods that often work with ordinary
we discover that our existential depression remains a part of our
If after several years of struggling with
as if it were merely a problem of brain chemistry or being unlucky in
we might be ready to kill ourselves
because NOTHING WORKS.
But we should take heart from the following
1. Existential depression is not a mental illness.
It is a part of every deep human person.
Existential depression ought to be given our deepest attention
rather than being something we want to forget as soon as possible.
We become more deeply persons
to the degree that we are able to explore our existential depression.
2. As we come to understand
the dynamics of our existential depression,
we feel better having a description
of this inward problem.
Reading books and discussing existential depression
others who are sensitive to it can provide some relief.
Even if we must live the rest of our lives in tension with existential
this is much better than living in denial of this deepest
We can stand in creative tension with our Existential Malaise.
We learn how to refuse death, how to say "no" to irrational suicide
and how to affirm whatever we have decided is the meaning of our
In existential terminology, this is called Authentic Existence.
3. Are there human beings who confronted their existential
and discovered ways to be released from this deep problem?
Can we learn from those who claim
to have discovered a way beyond existential depression?
If we have any form of depression for which we can
find a cause,
then we should seek
appropriate cures associated with those causes.
Each situation that causes us to feel down can probably be
We can find new people to love.
We can find new jobs to pursue.
We can sometimes cure our physical illnesses and disabilities.
And even if we must ultimately die from whatever ails us,
we can still face that death with wisdom and courage.
And if we find within ourselves the kind of
that cannot be cured
no matter what we try,
we can still take courage that others have confronted this
If you suffer any kind of depression,
there is nevertheless some hope available.
Don't kill yourself.
Rather, look for more creative means to get beyond each type of problem.
You might find that coming to grips with your existential depression
will open a whole new form of life for you.
July 4, 2005;
revised 7-5-2005; 8-25-2007; 3-29-2008; 5-28-2010;
12-15-2011; 5-27-2012; 7-13-2013; 8-12-2014;
If you would like to read more about existential
here is another on-line essay:
Depression: Deeper than Psychological Depression".
Existential Depression Portal
presents several resources available on the Internet
that should help us to understand the different kinds of depression we
And some of the links explain creative ways to respond to existential
discussion of existential depression
found in print appears in James Park's major book:
Depression, Anxiety, & Death
(Minneapolis, MN: www.existentialbooks.com, 2006—5th edition)
Chapter 2 "Existential
, p. 39-51.
James Park is an existential philosopher
who has thought and written extensively about our Existential
explored here in one of its dimensions—existential
If existential depression does not speak to your condition,
perhaps one of the several other ways of exploring the same problem
will resonate with what is happening on the deepest levels of your
Keep on thinking, experiencing, & discovering.
Much more will be discovered about James Park on his
An Existential Philosopher's Museum: