Navigating the Depths: The Intersection of Depression and Meaninglessness

As you carve your path towards achieving your goals and dreams, depression may cast its shadow on you while you tread this rugged road. Even if you reach the summit, it is very possible that meaninglessness will greet and embrace you. Should this happen, you might struggle with confusion and questions: Am I depressed or feeling meaningless? Who is the real adversary? What is the cause and who is to blame? To date, we do not know if depression causes meaninglessness, if meaninglessness is the root of depression, or if they are unrelated altogether. In this article, we delve into the complex interaction between depression and the search for meaning when one is struck by a sense of meaninglessness, exploring the existential dimensions of this challenge prevalent in the field of mental and psychological health.

Reaching the Summit: Confronting Meaninglessness

Since the opposite of meaninglessness is meaning, it is necessary to discuss the first person who spoke about meaning from a psychological perspective: the Nazi victim and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, founder of logotherapy (a form of psychotherapy that emphasizes the search for meaning in life as the central human motivational force). In his most famous book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” he summarizes how his theories helped him survive his Holocaust experience and how this experience contributed to the development of his theories. Frankl devised several therapeutic techniques, most notably “paradoxical intention” and “dereflection.” Today, there are numerous logotherapy institutes around the world.

Understanding the Complex Relationship: Depression vs. Meaninglessness

When we delve into the history and roots of the concept of logotherapy, we see that it is closely linked to existential philosophy. The existential features are not hidden from those who look at the thoughts of Socrates and his predecessors, Saint Augustine, Al-Hallaj, Dante, Dostoevsky, who expressed existential thought in his novel “Notes from Underground,” the German philosopher Martin Heidegger who wrote “Being and Time” in 1927, and the French philosopher Sartre. The true founder of modern existentialism is the Danish thinker Søren Kierkegaard, leading to Nietzsche who said: “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” Frankl was deeply influenced by Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, whose philosophical thoughts on the importance of meaning and purpose were reflected in Frankl’s therapeutic approach. Thus, logotherapy represents a bridge between science and philosophy, combining clinical psychology methods with profound philosophical thought. This integration makes it a powerful tool for comprehensively understanding and addressing psychological issues, as many people seeking psychotherapy suffer from existential problems related to the meaning of life, especially in times of crisis, suffering, and trauma. Logotherapy provides a framework for discussing these questions in a deep and comprehensive manner, giving it a philosophical character.

Viktor Frankl and Logotherapy: A Beacon of Meaning

Frankl linked the search for meaning with suffering and psychological trauma, but in our current era, people can feel a lack of meaning in life without experiencing severe traumas, psychological crises, or even depression. They might be materially or psychologically stable, and no matter what goals and ambitions they achieve, they feel a lack of meaning in their accomplishments. They may feel a temporary thrill of achievement and joy in reaching their goals until the feeling of meaninglessness overtakes these achievements, rendering them mundane.

Existential Philosophy and Its Influence on Logotherapy

The feeling of meaninglessness can result from existential questions in life. This feeling can be temporary and occur at certain stages of life, such as during youth, midlife crises, or significant changes. Individuals may feel futile due to not achieving their personal goals or dissatisfaction with their professional or life paths, without being depressed. Alternatively, those who feel meaningless often find new ways to redirect their lives and search for new meaning.

The Modern Struggle: Meaninglessness Without Trauma

Among the famous personalities who suffered from meaninglessness despite achieving their dreams are Dalida, the famous singer and actress who committed suicide at the age of 54. Despite her life being full of artistic successes, she felt deep loneliness. Her emotional life was unstable, and there was a feeling of emotional emptiness despite her millions of fans.

Case Studies: Famous Lives Marked by Meaninglessness

Ernest Hemingway, an acclaimed American writer and journalist who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954, suffered from severe depression and a sense of emptiness despite his great literary success. His personal life was filled with tensions, and he felt meaningless despite his significant achievements.

Leonard Cohen, a Canadian singer, songwriter, and poet known for his deep and poetic songs, experienced periods of depression and self-doubt, feeling meaningless at different stages of his life. Instead of succumbing to these feelings, he expressed them in his musical and poetic works, inspiring many.

Not long ago, the story of the Dutch girl Zaraia Terbeek made headlines on social media and in global newspapers due to her decision to end her life through euthanasia. Although Zaraia led a quiet and stable life with a supportive and loving partner, had no financial distress, and had not experienced severe crises or psychological traumas in her past, she felt depression and was pained by the meaninglessness in her life.

The Prevailing Sense of Meaninglessness in Contemporary Times

Since each era has its own depression, the feeling of meaninglessness will prevail in our time to a greater extent. This feeling can be complex and multifaceted, often not requiring clear reasons or significant suffering to develop. It is important to acknowledge that the feeling of meaninglessness may accompany depression that can affect anyone. It is also crucial to make a correct diagnosis because this feeling or belonging to meaninglessness may not always indicate depression. Nonetheless, in all cases, the suffering of individuals should not be underestimated based on the absence of a clear cause.

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