When it comes to how to handle mental health, we each take our own approach. Though some of us take the approach suggested by all mental health professionals – treatment through therapy and medication – others seek out ways to self-medicate.
Philosophy has a way of helping us not only understand our thoughts but the world around us too. While we get a glimpse into the human psyche, we’re also shown how this is reflected back into the modern world.
A popular philosopher of modern times has been Friedrich Nietzsche. Particularly, due to his beliefs concerning nihilism.
For those unaware, nihilism is defined as “the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated.” Some out there may find solace in this idea as it leaves no fault in those facing a mental health condition. In fact, people with a nihilistic mindset may go as far as to say they don’t have a problem at all.
Of course, not everyone struggling with mental health will think along these lines. However, you might be one of the few seeking out philosophical guidance and looking towards Nietzsche’s ethics for answers.
If so, this article explores what Nietzsche had to say about nihilism and whether or not it’s healthy for the mind. At the end, we invite you to ask more questions.
Who Was Nietzsche?
In order to understand philosophy, it’s vital to understand the philosopher. Friedrich Nietzsche was a German philosopher who went against traditional European morals and religion. His philosophy sets to teach the reader about his ideas surrounding society and politics.
According to Nietzsche, people have received a “false consciousness” which is infecting the ideas they perceive. He was very suspicious of society and religion and how it played a role in the psychological evolution of humanity.
Rather than complying with societal thinking, Nietzsche held the belief that there’s a natural psychological to ourselves which we aren’t true to.
Nietzsche wrote a number of books on these topics including The Birth of Tragedy, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, The Antichrist, and his collections of essays The Will to Power.
By the time his career was coming to an end, Nietzsche had collapsed of a mental breakdown in the streets of Turan, Italy after seeing a man beat his horse. Upon regaining consciousness, he had lost his sanity. He lived with his mother in a semiconscious state until his death on August 25th, 1900.
What Were Nietzsche’s Ideas of Nihilism
“To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
It’s extremely important to understand that Nietzsche wasn’t a nihilist himself. Though much academic literature will claim this, it’s anything but true. Yes, he wrote a large amount about the topic. But he did so as he was concerned about how it could affect our society and culture.
Some people may view Nietzsche as a nihilist purely due to his belief that there was no real significance in accordance with traditional views of:
He felt as though these aspects of what was, at that time, modern European culture created obligations for those who followed them. In turn, Nietzsche also believed these obligations had a very negative effect on one’s psychology and their sense of individuality.
Truly, Nietzsche believed all those around him were nihilists. He felt as though, at the time, modern European culture was beginning to reject past values and morality. It was due to this belief he coined the popular phrase, “God is dead.”
The confusion people have concerning whether or not Nietzsche is a nihilist himself is due to the fact that he believed this death of God was a good thing for society. He felt that people should step away from traditional morality set up by Christianity.
However, to step away from one set of morality means to walk in the direction of another. And what fascinated Nietzsche was what this morality could be.
What Morality Did Nietzsche Believe In?
Through the perspective of a true nihilist, the death of God would mean there are no real values for this world at all. However, Nietzsche believed there were indeed values this earth had to offer.
Instead, by allowing oneself to be freed from that of, what was, modern European society and value, one would have the ability to perceive the abundance of values actually out there.
William Blake, an English poet who also went against the church, also discusses this abundance in the famous quote:
“If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is; Infinite.”
The bottom line, Nietzsche’s morality actually directs us against nihilism. It instead tells us to seek out other forms of morality we didn’t understand prior. Instead of simply not believing in what’s already there, he wants us to find something to believe in.
Misunderstandings and Mental Health
As mentioned, many of Nietzsche’s discussions on nihilism are completely misunderstood. Even some academic literature proposes the wrong ideas of how we should view this philosopher’s conversation.
When it comes to mental health, there’s a lot of danger in this misunderstanding.
In one example, someone with a major depressive disorder might feel the following symptoms:
- Decreased energy
- Empty feelings
- Hopelessness, pessimism
- Loss of interest in activities and hobbies
- Suicidal thoughts
There’s no denying symptoms as such can lead one to think along the lines of a nihilist. In fact, it would only be natural for some people with depression to think along these lines.
However, other mental health conditions are also at risk of falling into nihilism.
Take bipolar disorder as an example. People with the illness will feel bouts of complete energy only to suddenly be caught with a drastic depression. During these depressive episodes, one may feel nihilistic tendencies.
Again, not everyone suffering from a mental health condition will relate to nihilism. Yet, those who do will be seeking answers. And with a quick Google search, they’ll most likely be led to no other than Friedrich Nietzsche.
As we’ve discussed, Nietzsche isn’t promoting nihilism. Instead, he wants us to take the negative feelings of nihilism and use them to discover a different kind of ideal.
Is Nietzsche Healthy for Mental Health?
In essence, what Nietzsche is trying to get across is healthy for you to think about. He wants us to accept the death of God and traditional society and take a new look at the world around us.
Of course, such a look can be intimidating and maybe even trigger certain mental health symptoms. But at the same time, this kind of thinking is very active and has the ability to reduce mental health symptoms.
Still, it cannot be forgotten, there is a danger in not understanding Nietzsche’s beliefs on nihilism. If you decide to read his works, it’s important to remember his strong belief that there is value in this world. Just not in the society, politics, and religion we’ve come to know.
Still have questions surrounding Nietzsche and his philosophical ideas surrounding nihilism? Still curious as to how these ideas could play a part in your mental health?
We invite you to ask these questions in the comments below. We also invite anyone who has input to give on what has been discussed in this article. We try to get back to everyone in a personal and prompt manner.
Featured Image Artist – Edvard Munch (Source)