The Gifted Young Person and Existential Depression
“Existential depression is a depression that arises when an individual confronts certain basic issues of existence. Yalom (1980) described four such issues (or “ultimate concerns “) – death, freedom, isolation and meaninglessness. Death is an inevitable occurrence. Freedom, in an existential sense, refers to the absence of external structure. We must give the world a structure which we ourselves create. Isolation recognizes that no matter how close we become to another person, a gap always remains, and we are nonetheless alone. Meaninglessness stems from the first three. If we must die, if we construct our own world, and if each of us is ultimately alone, then what meaning does life have?”
Existential concerns are experienced more often in gifted children. They reflect on these conundrums rather than the mundane features of life. In essence they consider how life could be otherwise, they are aware of its manifold possibilities, how it falls far short of what it should be. Highly sensitive, they feel deeply disappointment and the frustration of not achieving their goals. They observe keenly life’s inconsistencies, its often absurd and arbitrary nature. They challenge and question traditions.
A common reaction to unresolved frustration is anger, but when wrestling with ultimate concerns of life itself, this becomes futile, a waste of time. How does one solve the absurdity of life if the writer of Ecclesiastes could not? “Anger that is powerless evolves quickly into depression.” Hence, these kids become aware how finite and small their lives are in a capricious world, that they are alone and faced with the limitless possibilities of freedom. In this environment ultimate meaning slips away, like sand in the hand one asks, “Is this all there is?”
“Such concerns are not too surprising in thoughtful adults who are going through mid-life crises. However, it is a matter of great concern when these existential questions are foremost in the mind of a twelve- or fifteen-year-old. Such existential depressions deserve careful attention, since they can be precursors to suicide.”
Existential Depression in Gifted Individuals. https://www.sengifted.org/post/existential-depression-in-gifted-individuals. SENG. September 14, 2011.