Irrational suicide is widely attributed to depression.
There are at least three basic kinds of depression:
biochemical, situational, & existential.
The least understood of these is existential depression.
But this uncaused, free-floating depression might be
a sign of spiritual progress and depth rather than a mental illness.
If we come to grips with our existential depression,
we will be less tempted to kill ourselves.









by James Leonard Park

    "Depression" has become a widely used expression in our time.
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 "melancholy".

    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).

    First we will dispose of the two best-understood kinds of depression
(biochemical depression and situational depression)
in order to proceed to the least-discussed form
existential depression
which will be the basic subject of this exploration.

    Existential depression might be at least part
of the cause of many irrational suicides.
One reason existential depression pushes toward foolish self-killing
is that existential depression does not yield to any of the methods
appropriate for biochemical or situational 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
is a problem in the complex chemical systems within our skulls,
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 investigation,
well beyond the scope of philosophy.  

    However, when we take chemicals that dull our feelings,
these effects might also be making us less sensitive to our
situational depression or our existential depression.  


    If we were facing our own deaths within the next few months,
this would be a depressing situation.
If we will not live to see another birthday or another Christmas,
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 of love.
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 worthless.
(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.)

    Financial problems can also cause situational depression.
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 be depressed,
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 relationship,
we no longer find the loss of a previous relationship so depressing. 
If we can finally solve our financial problems,
that kind of situational depression disappears.


    But the third kind of depression is much more subtle and deep
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 to depression.

    Existential depression is not a condition of chemical imbalance.
Existential depression is not caused by any specific life-situation.
Rather, we just discover that we are depressed in the depths of our beings.
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 existential depression.
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 spiritual advancement.
Only if we are deeply in tune with our inner selves
are we able to notice the depression that has no cause.  


    All forms of depression
biochemical, situational, & existential
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 they have been replaced by a better lover.
And some people commit irrational suicide
because they have the incurable, free-floating depression
not caused by anything that went wrong in their brains or in their lives.

    How many suicides are caused by this deepest kind of depression?
We can be depressed in many ways at once.
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 when we try the methods that work for ordinary depression,
we discover that our existential depression remains deep inside.

    If after several years of struggling with existential depression
as if it were merely a problem of brain chemistry or being unlucky in love,
we might be ready to kill ourselves

    But we should take heart from the following considerations:

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 trying to repress or forget it as soon as possible.
We become more deeply persons of spirit
when we are able to explore our existential depression.

2. As we come to understand our existential depression,
we feel better having a description of this inward problem.
Reading books and discussing existential depression
with others who are sensitive to it can provide some relief.
Even if we must live in tension with our existential depression,
this is better than living in denial of our deepest problem.
We can stand in creative tension with our Existential Malaise.
We learn how to refuse death, how to say "no" to irrational suicide,
& how to affirm whatever we have decided is the meaning of our lives.
In existential terminology, this is called Authentic Existence.  


    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 changed:
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 depression
that cannot be cured no matter what we try,
we can still take courage from the fact
that others have confronted this Malaise and survived.

    If you suffer any kind of depression,
there is nevertheless some hope available.
Don't kill yourself.
Rather, look for more creative ways to respond to 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.

drafted July 4, 2005; revised 7-5-2005; 8-25-2007; 3-29-2008; 5-28-2010;
6-18-2011; 12-15-2011; 5-27-2012; 7-13-2013; 8-12-2014; 2-25-2015; 2-24-2018;

    If you would like to read more about existential depression,
here is another on-line essay:
"Existential Depression: Deeper than Psychological Depression".


Existential Depression Portal
presents several resources available on the Internet
to help us understand the different kinds of depression.
Will we find creative ways to respond to existential depression?

    The most comprehensive discussion of existential depression 
found in print appears in this book:
Our Existential Predicament:
Loneliness, Depression, Anxiety, & Death
(Minneapolis, MN:, 2006
5th edition)
Chapter 2 "Existential Depression" , p. 39-51. 


    James Park is an existential philosopher
who has written extensively about our Existential Predicament,
explored here in one of its dimensions
existential depression.
If existential depression does not speak to your condition,
perhaps one of the other ways of exploring the same problem
will resonate more deeply within you.
Keep on thinking, experiencing, & discovering.  

    Much more will be discovered about James Park on his website:
James Leonard Park—Free Library

Go to other on-line essays by James Park,
organized into 10 subject-areas.

Return to the Existential Spirituality page.

Go to the beginning of this website
James Leonard Park—Free Library