Understanding Depression: An Existential Approach

Man's Search For Meaning

Depression is a complicated phenomenon and often requires a multifaceted approach to ensure optimal recovery.  I’ve reproduced the text of a letter recently published in the Irish Independent from a philosopher/logotherapist that provides much food for thought. I personally am a proponent of existential analysis (and am currently a student of Dr. Costello at the Viktor Frankl Institute).


* I would like to take this opportunity to contribute to the discussion around mental health, which features this week in the Irish Independent.

It was Plato who gave the first model of mental health: it happens when the three parts of the soul, or personality, are in order or harmony.

Centuries later, Dr Viktor Frankl, the Viennese founder of logotherapy and existential analysis, likewise argued that there were three dimensions to the human person: soma (body), psyche (mind) and noos (spirit – the specifically human dimension).

I gave a paper on depression last year to an audience in St Patrick’s Psychiatric Hospital in which I argued that we need to distinguish between three types of depression (of course they overlap), a distinction that is largely ignored by the medical model that dominates discourse on depression in Ireland.

There is somatogenic, or endogenous depression, which is biologically caused and best treated by pharmacological intervention together with supplemental and supportive therapy; psychogenic, or reactive depression, which occurs usually as a result of some trauma suffered or love lost; and a noogenic depression (known only to Dr Viktor Frankl’s school of logotherapy and existential analysis), which is a philosophico-spiritual suffering, where questions about life’s purpose and meaning come to the forefront. Sometimes Plato is better than Prozac.

Illnesses come from nature but their cure stems only from the spirit.

Dr Stephen J Costello, director, Viktor Frankl Institute of Ireland/School of Logotherapy and Existential Analysis Ranelagh, Dublin 6′

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