Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 35, Issue 3, pp 285–292 | Cite as

Existential Anxiety in Adolescents: Prevalence, Structure, Association with Psychological Symptoms and Identity Development

  • Steven L. Berman
  • Carl F. Weems
  • Timothy R. Stickle

Existential anxiety is hypothesized to be a core human issue in a great deal of theoretical and philosophical writing. However, little is known about the emergence of these concerns and their relation to emotional functioning in youth. The purpose of this study was to examine the phenomenon of existential anxiety in a sample of adolescents. Data on existential concerns, identity development and psychological symptoms were collected on a sample of 139 youth in grades 9–12. Results indicated that existential anxiety concerns have a theoretically consistent factor structure, are common among adolescents, and are associated with psychological symptoms, as well as identity issues. Results are discussed with regard to the importance of existential concerns in the lives of youth and the need for additional research.


existential anxiety identity adjustment 


  1. Abdel-Khalek, A. M. (2000–2001). Death, anxiety, and depression in Kuwaiti undergraduates. Omega 42: 309–320.Google Scholar
  2. American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th edn.). Author, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  3. Balistreri, E., Busch-Rossnagel, N. A., and Geisinger, K. F. (1995). Development and validation of the Ego Identity Process Questionnaire. J. Adolesc. 18: 179–192.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Berman, S. L., Montgomery, M. J., and Kurtines, W. M. (2004). The development and validation of a measure of identity distress. Identity: An Int. J. Theor. Res. 4(1): 1–8.Google Scholar
  5. Crumbaugh, J. C., and Maholick, L. T. (1969). Manual of Instruction for the Purpose-in-Life-Test. Psychometric Affiliates, Munster.Google Scholar
  6. Debats, D. L., Drost, J., and Hansen, P. (1995). Experiences of meaning of life: A combined qualitative and quantitative approach. Br. J. Psychol. 86: 359–375.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Derogotis, L. R. (1994). Symptom Checklist-90-R (SCL-90-R) Administration, Scoring, and Procedures Manual (3rd edn.). National Computer Systems, Minneapolis, MN.Google Scholar
  8. Derogotis, L. R. (2000). BSI-18: Administration, Scoring, and Procedures Manual. Pearson Assessments, Minneapolis, MN.Google Scholar
  9. Dong, Q., Yang, B., and Ollendick, T. H. (1994). Fears in Chinese children and adolescents and their relations to anxiety and depression. J. Child Psychol. Psychiatry 35: 351–363.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Erikson, E. H. (1963). Childhood and Society (2nd edn.). Norton, New York.Google Scholar
  11. Erikson, E. H. (1968). Identity, Youth and Crisis. Norton, New York.Google Scholar
  12. Fortner, B. V., and Neimeyer, R. A. (1999). Death anxiety in older adults: A quantitative review. Death Stud. 23: 387–411.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Good, L. R., and Good, K. C. (1974). A preliminary measure of existential anxiety. Psychol. Rep. 34: 72–74.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Ingman, K. A., Ollendick, T. H., and Akande, A. (1999). Cross cultural aspects of fears in African children and adolescents. Behav. Res. Ther. 37: 337–345.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Kierkegaard, S. (1843/1954a). Fear and Trembling. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.Google Scholar
  16. Kierkegaard, S. (1849/1954b). The Sickness Unto Death. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.Google Scholar
  17. Kochanska, G., Gross, J. N., Lin, M. H., and Nichols, K. E. (2002). Guilt in young children: Development, determinants, and relations with a broader system of standards. Child Dev. 73: 461–483.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Marcia, J. E. (1966). Development and validation of ego identity status. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 5: 551–558.Google Scholar
  19. Mislevy, R. (1986). Recent developments in the factor analysis of categorical variables. J. Educ. Stat. 11: 3–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Muthén, B. (1978). Contributions to factor analysis of dichotomous variables. Psychometrika 43: 551–560.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Muthén, L. K., and Muthén, B. O. (1998–2004). Mplus User's Guide (3rd edn.). Los Angeles, CA: Muthén and Muthén.Google Scholar
  22. Ollendick, T. H. (1983). Reliability and validity of the revised fear survey schedule for children (FSSC-R). Behav. Res. Ther. 6: 685–692.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Ollendick, T. H., and King, N. J. (1994). Fears and their level of interference in adolescents. Behav. Res. Ther. 6: 635–638.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Ollendick, T. H., Matson, J. L., and Helsel, W. J. (1985). Fears in children and adolescents: Normative data. Behav. Rese. Ther. 4: 465–467.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Ollendick, T. H., King, N. J., and Frary, R. B. (1989). Fears in children and adolescents: Reliability and generalizability across gender, age, and nationality. Behav. Res. Ther. 1: 19–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Ollendick, T. H., Yule, W., and Ollier, K. (1991). Fears in British children and their relationship to manifest anxiety and depression. J. Child Psychol. Psychiatry 2: 321–331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Ollendick, T. H., Yang, B., Dong, Q., Xia, Y., and Lin, L. (1995). Perceptions of fear in other children and adolescents: The role of gender and friendship status. J. Abnorm. Child Psychol. 23: 439–452.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Ollendick, T. H., Yang, B., King, N. J., Dong, Q., and Akande, A. (1996). Fears in American, Australian, Chinese, and Nigerian children and adolescents: A cross cultural study. J. Child Psychol. Psychiatry 37: 213–220.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Ollendick, T. H., Langley, A. K., Jones, R. T., and Kephart, C. (2001). Fear in children and adolescents: Relations with negative life events, attributional style, and avoidant coping. J. Child Psychol. Psychiatry 42: 1029–1034.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Pyszczynski, T., Greenberg, J., and Solomon, S. (1999). A dual-process model of defense against conscious and unconscious death-related thoughts: An extension of terror management theory. Psychol. Rev. 106: 835–845.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Sartre, J. (1957). Existentialism and Human Emotions. Philosophical Library, New York.Google Scholar
  32. Tillich, P. (1952a). The Courage To Be. Yale University Press, New Haven.Google Scholar
  33. Tillich, P. (1952b) Anxiety, religion, and medicine. Pastoral Psychol. 3: 11–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Tillich, P. (1961). Existentialism and psychotherapy. Rev. Existent. Psychol. Psychiatry 1: 8–16.Google Scholar
  35. Warren, S. L., and Sroufe, L. A. (2004). Developmental issues. In Ollendick, T. H., and March, J. S. (eds.), Phobic and Anxiety Disorders in Children and Adolescents: A Clinician's Guide to Effective Psychosocial and Pharmacological Interventions. (pp. 92–115). Oxford University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  36. Weems, C. F., and Costa, N. M. (2005). Developmental differences in the expression of childhood anxiety symptoms and fears. J. Am. Acad. Child Adolesc. Psychiatry 44, 656–663.Google Scholar
  37. Weems, C. F., Costa, N. M., Dehon, C., and Berman, S. L. (2004). Paul Tillich's theory of existential anxiety: A conceptual and empirical analysis. Anxiety Stress Coping: An Int. J. 17: 383–399.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Westenberg, P. M., Siebelink, B. M., and Treffers, P. D. A. (2001). Psychosocial developmental theory in relation to anxiety and its disorders. In Silverman, W. K., and Treffers, P. D. A. (eds.), Anxiety Disorders in Children and Adolescents: Research, Assessment and Intervention (pp. 72–89). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.Google Scholar
  39. Yalom, I. D. (1975). The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy. Basic Books, New York.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Steven L. Berman
    • 1
  • Carl F. Weems
    • 2
  • Timothy R. Stickle
    • 3
  1. 1.Psychology DepartmentUniversity of Central FloridaFloridaUSA
  2. 2.University of New OrleansNew OrleansUSA
  3. 3.University of VermontOntarioCanada

Personalised recommendations