Depression

How to Deal with Depression as a Highly Gifted Adult

June 18, 2021

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With everyone stuck at home, mental health has been at an all time low this past year. 

Many people are feeling isolated, anxious, and depressed as a result of the pandemic and all the changes it’s brought about. And, for people who were already feeling that way, COVID-19 has only succeeded in making it worse.

Some of those people are gifted adults. Those who are considered “gifted” are especially likely to experience depression, particularly existential depression, a type of depression that centers around thoughts about life, death, and meaninglessness as the name might suggest.

Why is this the case, though? And what actions can be taken by gifted adults to help with this problem?

Why are gifted adults more susceptible to depression?

Simply put, gifted adults are more likely to struggle with depression at some point in their life because they were once gifted adolescents.

Children are labeled as “gifted” when they’re still very young by the administrators of their school. From that point on not only are the expectations of their teachers increased as a result, but so do their expectations for themselves, which can lead to issues with self-esteem if they’re not meeting those expectations.

The “gifted” system can encourage harmful, perfectionist beliefs among adolescents.

Gifted children also may feel isolated from their peers as a result of this label, and they have many traits that can serve as a double-edged sword and make them more likely to struggle with depression. 

For example, gifted children are typically more sensitive, empathetic, and in tune with their emotions overall. They think about things in more detail than other kids their age and tend to overanalyze, so when they see injustice in the world they may experience a sense of hopelessness from it.

An image of a little red-haired girl standing by herself in the dark in front of a tree with red flowers. She has her face in her hands and her eyes closed.
Depression can be very difficult to deal with, especially for children. Negative thoughts can make gifted individuals feel hopeless and isolated even at such a young age.

They also have very idealist tendencies, and so may see that the world is falling short of how much better it could be. They’ll question why the things that are bad about the world are the way that they are far when these dark thoughts haven’t even occurred to other children their age.

They’ll also be more attuned to and therefore judgemental of other peoples’ negative behavior.

And, when gifted children try to express these thoughts to other people— even adults —in their lives, they’ll most likely receive a negative response. This can add to their feelings of isolation.

An image of game pieces on a white, slightly reflective surface. There are eight red pieces all clustered together and a black piece set apart from the others on its own. The pieces are all spheres on top of cones, making them look like people.
The isolation that is caused by depression can be incredibly harmful, because a good support system is an important way of countering depression. However, if adolescents struggling with these negative thoughts believe they are alone in the experience, it’s very likely that they will avoid their peers if they’re not already excluded.

They won’t understand why other people aren’t as concerned with these big issues of the universe, preferring to instead focus on short term problems, and this can cause anger and hostility in gifted adolescents.

However, these feelings typically go away and only lead to more of the same hopeless feelings associated with existential depression. They can persist well into adulthood if the gifted child doesn’t get the professional help that they need to overcome these negative thoughts and feelings.

What is Existential Depression?

Existential depression revolves specifically around concepts of existence such as the meaning of life, death, and one’s place in the universe overall. 

Thinking about any of these topics for too long and in too much detail can lead to spiraling and a lot of negative thoughts and emotions such as meaninglessness, which is often the case for “gifted” individuals with an analytical nature.

The types of thoughts that adults dealing with existential depression will struggle with can vary, though typically they fall into several broad categories; political, ethical, spiritual, and philosophical— among other things.

These are all things that are an inevitable part of human existence, but the traits that gifted individuals exhibit mean that they’re more likely to contemplate these issues in more depth than the average person, and in doing so cause themself distress.

Some common symptoms of existential depression are a fixation on these concepts of life and death, as well as anxiety and sorrow about the way the world is as opposed to the way that gifted individuals idealize that it could be.

An image of a graveyard with many headstones visible. There is a lot of grass, and some trees and bushes visible in the background.
Death is an incredibly difficult thing to think about for anyone, despite its inevitability, and those with existential depression often find themselves unable to take their mind off of it and other such concepts. The meaning of life is also a very common theme in their thoughts, especially in regards to the way that it ends.

This often begins when the gifted individual is first labeled as gifted while very young, but the traits that make them “gifted” last until adulthood, and so the existential depression persists as well.

People with existential depression believe that there are no real solutions to the things that are wrong with the world, which is where the sense of pointlessness or hopelessness can come from. They tend to be very idealistic and passionate, and so feel more strongly about these issues than most.

They’ll feel separate and isolated from their peers, and go so far as to outright avoid them because they don’t believe that others can understand their feelings.

This desire to avoid other people can also stem from a lack of success forming meaningful relationships where they feel that they can talk about the concepts that they’re constantly thinking about.

They’ll have trouble letting themselves depend on someone else in a real sense, as relationships where they can’t talk about their deeper thoughts will feel very surface-level.

Not only will those with existential depression not want to engage with others, they also will experience a lack of motivation for anything that they previously enjoyed. They’ll also have more trouble focusing while performing tasks.

Accomplishments will feel more pointless, even if they are receiving recognition from other people for their good work. They may need to become comfortable with their giftedness and actually let themselves use the aspects that set them apart.

An image of the hands of a man who is writing something in pen on a piece of paper. An open laptop is also in front of him.
Work can be an added stressor for those suffering from depression, but even if you’re succeeding in your career or in school, it can be difficult to stay motivated. And, for those with depression, any accomplishments can feel undeserved no matter how much work went into that success.

Gifted adults need an adequate challenge, but they also won’t enjoy being put in a position of leadership due to a lack of faith in themself. They can feel overwhelmed and guilty about being given power in the workplace.

In extreme cases, existential depression— just like any other type of depression —can lead to suicidal thoughts, and even actions, so seeking help from a mental health professional is very important if you believe you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of existential depression.

How do you deal with it?

There’s no simple solution to existential depression, particularly because there are no simple answers to the questions that people struggling with it will be asking of themselves and others.

Still, there are a number of things that you can do to support someone you love experiencing existential depression as a gifted adult or adolescent.

And if you think you might be struggling with this type of depression yourself, by all means use the following as a blueprint, but know that this is not something you should try to deal with by yourself.

A solid support system is very important, and the help of a professional should always be recognized as the best option, especially if you’re experiencing some of the more serious symptoms.

An image of a woman sitting on a couch and crying into her hands, which are pressed together. Someone stands behind her, their face out of frame, with both of their hands on her shoulders in comfort.
Supporting your loved ones suffering from existential depression— or any kind of depression for that matter —is very important, but don’t invalidate their feelings. Just show them that you’re there for them and that you care.

You definitely shouldn’t disregard or blindly reassure someone who’s dealing with existential depression— it’s better to validate their feelings. Don’t try to think up silver linings, it’ll make them feel more understood if you recognize their concerns.

You can take an active approach, too— if your loved one has a very negative perception of the world, maybe do something together to try and help out, like donating to a charity or do some community service together. 

Helping others will surely help them feel a bit better, too, and help them to see that the world isn’t all bad rather than just trying to convince them verbally.

Above all, though, your loved one should speak to a medical health professional if they’re struggling with existential depression. You can only help them so much through your support, but therapy or some other type of professional treatment could be what they need.

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