Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

, Volume 16, Issue 1, pp 31–39 | Cite as

Depression as unhomelike being-in-the-world? Phenomenology’s challenge to our understanding of illness

  • Tamara Kayali
  • Furhan Iqbal
Scientific Contribution


Fredrik Svenaeus has applied Heidegger’s concept of ‘being-in-the-world’ to health and illness. Health, Svenaeus contends, is a state of ‘homelike being-in-the-world’ characterised by being ‘balanced’ and ‘in-tune’ with the world. Illness, on the other hand, is a state of ‘unhomelike being-in-the-world’ characterised by being ‘off-balance’ and alienated from our own bodies. This paper applies the phenomenological concepts presented by Svenaeus to cases from a study of depression. In doing so, we show that while they can certainly enrich our understanding of depression, they can also reveal a clash between some societal definitions of illness and the individual’s definition. Phenomenological analysis may thus cause us to question what we mean, or think should be meant, by the terms ‘health’ and ‘illness’.


Depression Health Heidegger Illness Mental illness Phenomenology Understanding 



We wish to sincerely thank all the participants who so generously shared their time and experiences. We also wish to thank Professor Emeritus Martin Richards and the two anonymous referees for their constructive feedback, and the Arnold Gerstenberg Studentship which helped fund this research.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Family ResearchUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  2. 2.Fulbourn HospitalCambridgeUK

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