Facing Life, Death, and Freedom: Existential Teen Depression in Gifted Teens

Teens who are gifted in some way, whether intellectually, creatively, or artistically, or in leadership, tend to have certain psychological impairments that other children may not have.

After hearing the news of 20 elementary school-aged children dying in the Newtown, CT school shooting, Tyler immediately turned on the television to grasp what was going on. Listening to the accounts of those who lost a sister or brother or friend turned on the tears for him. He couldn’t quite separate himself from the suffering he felt in the accounts he heard during the newscast.

Gifted Teens

Gifted teens tend to experience feelings and thoughts more intensely, which might contribute to a vulnerability to depression. Research indicates the tendency for gifted teens to be more prone to depression, given their differences from other children. Furthermore, they can be more sensitive, tend to be perfectionists, and have high levels of energy. These traits might contribute feeling so different that they cannot socially or emotionally connect with others, leading to a sense of loneliness or isolation. Teen Depression treatment may be necessary to help the adolescent feel less isolated.

 Existential Depression

Existential depression is a psychological and perhaps spiritual experience in which death and the meaning of life weighs heavily upon an individual. Although some adolescents might experience this sort of depression after the loss of a loved one, when the questions of life and death become more evident, gifted teens can experience existential teen depression spontaneously. Adolescents who are gifted tend to have thoughts that take on the world’s challenges. They feel the sense of powerlessness that comes with realizing there are events beyond their control.

When Joe was out with his friends one night, he looked across the street and saw a man in this 30’s punch another man, who fell to the ground and hit his head on the pavement. The sight of the violence and blood shook Joe deeply. He couldn’t fathom the idea that a human being would strike harm upon a fellow human, despite knowing intellectually that human violence has been taking place since human existence.

Often, when gifted teens experience these feelings and share them they are frequently dismissed. This can lead to further feelings of isolation, powerlessness, and loneliness.

4 Aspects of Depression

Irvin Yalom, one of the pioneers in Existential Psychology, identified four aspects to depression from an existential point of view. These are:

  1. Death – the inevitable occurrence that all humans must face
  2. Freedom – the absence of any sort of structure in the world, considering that society and individual human beings must create his or her own.
  3. Isolation – no matter how close we get to another human being, a separation will always remain
  4. Meaninglessness – the absence of meaning that is felt considering that we cannot fully unite with another human being, we are always inherently alone, and if, in the end, we will die.

Gifted teens tend to experience this on levels deeper than just an intellectual one. They feel the suffering in the human race as well as the great possibilities that are in store. For this reason, they might be idealistic and see all the ways the world could be better as well as the how humanity is falling short. Experiencing this causes them to question the means by which society runs, the absurdity of certain human interactions, and the overwhelming amount of violence that exists on the planet.


Certainly, gifted teens want to create change. They want to find their role in the messiness of human existence. Like Joe and Tyler, they want to find their way through the violence towards a meaningful existence. To do this, adolescents who are gifted might need to journal, participate in therapy so that their feelings and ideas are heard and acknowledged, find hope among the tragedies in the world, and participate in groups that are creating social change.


Robins, Sarah. “Existential Depression.” Parenting Gifted Kids. Www.ParentingGiftedKids.com, n.d. Web. 06 Mar. 2014.

Webb, James. “Existential Depression in Gifted Individuals.” Davidson Institute for Talent Development, n.d. Web. 06 Mar. 2014.

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