Longitudinal analysis of the relationship of existential meaning with depression and hope



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Texas A&M University


Although researchers are now able to assess reliably the variable of existential meaning, quality longitudinal investigations of meaning's relationship with specific clinical variables are scarce. The author conceptualizes existential meaning as a composite of personal, spiritual, and implicit meaning. These latter three variables are, respectively, the experience of one's particular life as having purpose and coherence, experiencing a transcendent or spiritual presence from which one derives a sense of unique purpose, and manifesting attitudes and behavior that are normatively valued. Utilizing a sample of 395 male and female undergraduates and employing the framework subscale of the Life Regard Index-Revised (LRI-R-framework), the Spiritual Meaning Scale (SMS), and the Personal Meaning Profile (PMP) to measure personal, spiritual, and implicit meaning, respectively, the author explored existential meaning's relationship over time with depressive symptoms (as measured with the Beck Depression Inventory-II, depression scale of the Depression Anxiety Stress Scales, and depression scale of the Personality Assessment Inventory) and hope (as measured with the Herth Hope Scale, the Adult State Hope Scale, and the Beck Hopelessness Scale). A latent cross-lagged panel analysis of the relationship between meaning and depression over 2 one-month time periods indicated that meaning exerted unidirectional influence on depression, with decreases in meaning leading to increases in depressive symptoms. Additionally, hierarchical regression analysis showed that individuals with low levels of existential meaning were more likely than those with higher meaning levels to experience increased symptoms of depression in response to increased stress levels. Because the newly developed SMS (appended to this paper) was the only meaning measure exhibiting sufficient discriminant validity with regard to hope, only the SMS was entered in cross-lagged panel analysis measuring its relationship to hope over the 2 one-month periods of time, with results indicating that spiritual meaning and hope reciprocally influence one another. Existential meaning seems appropriately conceptualized as a construct consisting of personal, spiritual, and implicit components. Because this construct can be assessed reliably and may play a role in the etiology and alleviation of depressive symptoms, the author calls for increased research within clinical settings on methods for optimizing individuals' levels of existential meaning.