I am hoping to see if Søren Kierkegaard’s idea of a theological “sickness unto death” still carries much weight in secular 2024. By incorporating the concept of “the sickness unto death” into secular contexts can offer profound insights into contemporary issues of identity, purpose, and existential despair. Here’s how this philosophical idea might be relevant today:

Understanding the Concept

  • Defining despair: For Kierkegaard, “the sickness unto death” is essentially a spiritual despair, stemming from not being one’s true self. In a secular interpretation, this can translate to a deep existential dissatisfaction that arises from living inauthentically or failing to fulfil my own potential.
  • Existential relevance: In modern secular societies, where traditional religious frameworks are less prevalent, despair might manifest as anxiety, depression, or a sense of meaninglessness.

Modern Applications

  1. Mental health awareness:
    • Self-identity and mental well-being: Kierkegaard’s idea highlights the importance of understanding and accepting one’s self to achieve mental well-being. It encourages introspection and personal authenticity, which are crucial in addressing modern mental health issues.
    • Therapeutic Approaches: Psychological therapies often echo Kierkegaard’s emphasis on authenticity, encouraging individuals to explore and resolve conflicts between their ideal selves and their actual experiences.
  2. In Personal development:
    • Authentic living: Encourage practices that allow individuals to explore their true interests, values, and beliefs without societal pressure, promoting a life that feels more meaningful and fulfilling. Let freaks be freaky!
    • Career choices: By aligning my career with my passions and values can mitigate some of the feelings of despair I have and it can enhance personal satisfaction and productivity.
  3. Social critique:
    • Cultural criticism: Kierkegaard’s concept can be used to critique societal norms that promote superficial values over individual authenticity. This can foster a societal shift towards more supportive structures that prioritise mental health and well-being.
    • Educational systems: Advocating for educational reforms that emphasise personal development and ethical living as much as academic achievement and job readiness.
  4. Philosophical and ethical discourse:
    • Ethics of authenticity: Engage in discussions about the ethical implications of living authentically in a highly interconnected and digital age, where social media often promotes inauthentic representations of self.
    • Philosophical counselling: Use philosophical concepts, including Kierkegaard’s, as tools in counseling to help individuals deal with existential crises and find deeper personal meaning.

Community Engagement

  • Workshops and seminars: This could be a tricky one; I have thought about organising community events focusing on themes of authenticity, personal growth, and existential health, using Kierkegaard’s insights as a foundational philosophy.
  • Discussion groups: Facilitate book clubs or discussion groups that delve into existentialist literature and philosophy, encouraging participants to explore and articulate their own experiences of despair and authenticity.

Nearly there

To sum up a long blog post that just said “more of that, please” I reckon Kierkegaard’s “sickness unto death” remains remarkably relevant. It offers a lens through which to view our struggles with identity and meaning in a secular age. By embracing his insights, we can confront and address the existential challenges of modern life, promoting a culture that values authenticity and well-being above superficial success. Surely this approach not only deepens individual lives but can also enrich our communities and societal structures.

If this blog post has whet your interest in Kierkegaard’s book “Sickness unto Death” then hunt it down.


Andrew Backhouse is a Yorkshire-based artist working with time-based media and digital collage. He is a self-confessed radio geek and he hopes to share his wonder. He also wants to share his naivety and enthusiasm for finding something interesting. Henri Chopin, AGF, and RuPaul influence Andrew’s artistic enquiry. Documenting “The new shiny thing,” Andrew tries to share his excitement for it. But, he also asks about its authenticity and worth.

Pin It on Pinterest