The Search for Meaning: Creative Responses to Depression


This issue of the SGI Quarterly presents a range of perspectives on a problem at once familiar and misunderstood. Throughout history, individuals have found themselves gripped by an overwhelming sense of sadness and pointlessness. This can be caused by many things--by an event in our lives such as bereavement or betrayal, illness or disappointment--but quite frequently it seems to lack an obvious cause: one is simply overcome by a sense of dark emptiness. Just as mysteriously, these feelings can lift or change. Many of those who have left records of their struggle with such feelings did so because they were able to muster from within something that enabled them to embrace and reframe this melancholy, to cast it in a new light. The creative expressions of this struggle--as art, philosophy, religious insight or scientific discovery--have enriched and benefited all of humankind.

Is depression a peculiarly modern phenomenon? Is it fundamentally a question of biology, of neurotransmitter imbalances or deficiencies, undiagnosed in the past and now amenable to treatment? Is it the by-product of market-based, materialistic societies that seem to deliberately erode people's sense of meaning in order to spur consumption? Or is it a sensitive apprehension and turning inward of anger at the injustices of society, a reflection of the loss of personal identity and purpose in a world too busy to care?

The fact of depression, which impacts the lives of hundreds of millions of people throughout the world, and the apparent absence of any single solution, may represent a fundamental challenge to a world that has come to crave instant answers. Indeed, the condition known as depression has no simple, instant solution. Any genuinely creative response requires that we learn to live with frailty and imperfection, that we accept the essentially problematic nature of the human condition. That we take our need for meaning and human connection as seriously as our need for things.