Edmund Burke stated that melancholy, dejection, despair, and often self-murder, is the consequence of the gloomy view we take of things in this relaxed state of body. The best remedy for all these evils is exercise or labour. Samuel Johnson, a melancholic himself, believed that rugged, rural living produced hearty and emotionally robust people, while city life sapped their resilience and made them vulnerable to depression. Enlightenment philosophers and scientists elevated reason and spurned melancholy as a state arising from irrational thinking. The other important development in the wests view of melancholy to come out of the Enlightenment can be traced to the periods emphasis on reason. Enlightenment thinkers prized the rational, and eschewed the melancholic mindset as anything but; somewhat like the Stoics, they saw the state as resulting from wrong thinking. Depression was not, as some renaissance philosophers had seen it, a source of creativity, but only an illogical madness. Romanticism Just as it seemed a view of melancholy as wholly bad had thoroughly taken hold of Western culture, the romantics turned the tide once again in the first half of the 19th century, reviving the idea that dark moods were the soil for creative.
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For example, 15th century English scholar and melancholic Robert Burtons 1,000 page tome, the Anatomy of Melancholy, takes a look at the history, causes, and possible treatments of the condition. While burton did provide antidotes for melancholy, he also emphasized the creative blessings that come with. This idea of fashionable melancholy manifested itself in popular culture as well. Plays would often feature sullen, downcast, and moody characters as individuals who had great insight into the human condition, the most famous of whom was perhaps Shakespeares Hamlet. Enlightenment Alongside the advances of science and technology birthed during the Enlightenment era came changing ideas about melancholy. The rise of steam-powered machines in the 18th century inspired mechanistic analogies as to how the human body and mind worked; doctors of this period saw melancholy as a malfunction of the human machine. Theories were advanced that the cause could environmental be found in faulty hydraulics (blood flow) or a failure in the elasticity of the bodys fibers or by untuned nerves. The idea that this disorder could be passed on from parent to child also came into vogue. 18th century English physician george Cheyne forwarded the theory that melancholy was caused by the increasing comforts and luxuries made possible by industrialization. To counteract the sickening effects of this rising decadence, cheyne prescribed a spartan vegetarian diet (though he himself had a hard time abiding by it; the man loved to eat meat). Other thinkers and scientists agreed with Cheynes theory, and it found particularly strong purchase among the aristocratic class, for whom luxury was both a source of enjoyment and some discomfort.
Andrew Solomon, author of The noonday demon, suggests that this connection between melancholy and the sin of sloth may have given rise to much of the stigma that surrounds depression today. Renaissance some father's renaissance thinkers believed melancholy was caused by contemplating the gap between humans divine potential and how far mortals could actually reach. Along with looking back to ancient Greece to inform their art and philosophy, renaissance thinkers did so to inform their view of melancholy as well. Instead of seeing it as a sign of sin, renaissance writers and philosophers viewed depressive moods through the Aristotelian lens — as a possible catalyst of genius and greatness. Italian Renaissance philosopher Marsilio ficino posited that the melancholics were such because they strived to understand the mystery and glory of God, but realized that theyd never be able to obtain it here on Earth; the gap between their lofty potential and their leaden feet. Wrote ficino: As long as we are representatives of God on earth, we are continually troubled by nostalgia for the celestial fatherland. For Renaissance europeans, melancholy became a badge of honor that signified depth, soulfulness, and intellectual complexity. With this new (again) view of melancholy as the origin of genius, being depressed became somewhat fashionable in Renaissance europe. Aristocrats and intellectuals took great pride in describing themselves with a touch of melancholic temperament and some devoted essays and whole books to the janus-faced state of mind. .
In the middle Ages, melancholy was associated with sloth, which was considered a sin. Not only essay was melancholy seen as a sign of sinfulness, being in a depressed state was considered sinful in and of itself; the latin word for the deadly sin of sloth, acedia, was broadly defined and included everything from laziness to melancholy. In fact, many of the clerics who wrote about individuals beset with acedia described them as being in the throws of depression. For example, cassian describes a fellow slothful monk this way: he looks about anxiously this way and that, and sighs that none of the brethren come to see him, and often goes in and out of his cell, and frequently gazes up at the sun. The canterbury tales, written in the 14th century, similarly describes the slothful person as one who is filled with despair, loss of hope, and outrageous book sorrow. This excessive low mood is followed by sluggishness and general apathy towards life, which in turn prevents the slothful person from performing good works. If not repented of, sloth becomes a sin against the holy Ghost.
Treatments of melancholia proliferated in Greece for the next 400 years, and many of them were used up through the renaissance. Potions, prayer, philosophical reflection, walking, sleeping in hammocks, and drinking human breast milk were all remedies doctors prescribed for centuries to patients with depressive moods. Medieval Times, the middle Ages carried on the classical idea of depression being rooted in ones disfavor with the gods, but this time the gods were those of Christianity, rather than the Greek pantheon. For clerics in Medieval Europe, melancholy was a sign that one was living sinfully and in need of repentance. In fact, severe melancholy was sometimes seen as a sign of demonic possession. John Cassian, a monk known for his mystical writings, called melancholy the noonday demon, in reference to Psalm. He recommended that melancholics withdraw from family and friends and perform hard manual labor in solitude as punishment for their sins.
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Someone could have just a slight excess of black bile and experience mild melancholia, or a severe pile-up that bred serious mental illness. Greek thinkers believed that the mild version was linked to genius and creativity. Problematic 30, a work attributed to Aristotle, the philosopher posits that heroes like lysander, Ajax, Plato, and Socrates had a mild melancholic temperament, and that it was their blue moods that allowed them to do great deeds and think mth lofty thoughts. Ancient Roman doctors continued the study and treatment of melancholia. Galen, a second century roman doctor, would have a particularly lasting influence on its treatment. Like hippocrates, galen believed that melancholia and other related mental illnesses were the result of a humoral imbalance, but he also theorized that some individuals are simply born with a temperament that makes them prone to the condition and that medicine could do very little. Competing against the humor-based, biological approach to depression were more spiritual and philosophical theories.
Greek temple priests believed depression or mania was a spiritual curse from the gods; only by petitioning the deities for relief could one be cured. Plato, on the other hand, unsurprisingly had a more philosophical take on the matter. For him, depression was a sickness of the soul that could be remedied by bringing into balance the three parts of a mans writing psyche : reason, desire, and thumos. The roman Stoics also took a philosophical approach to melancholia and argued that mental and emotional disturbances were caused by having a faulty perception of ones experiences and situation. These philosophers believed that how you mentally framed disastrous or stressful events could heighten or quell your anxiety (and consequently your melancholia). Thus, they argued that simply changing your cognitive perception of your circumstances could alleviate your mental anguish.
For example, jason the Argonaut was a great Homeric hero who youd expect to demonstrate nothing but action and resolve in the face of adversity. Yet when he shipwrecks on the coast of Libya, his mighty mantle falls away and he becomes absolutely helpless and sullen. In the Greeks more scientific texts, melancholia emerges as an illness in the 4th century writings of Hippocrates. For the ancient physician, melancholia constituted a depressive temperament brought on by an imbalance of the bodily humors or fluids. Hippocrates believed that the human body was composed of four substances: blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm. Any sickness or disease in the body was the result of an excess amount of one of these fluids, and the doctors job was to bring the humors back into balance by purging, bloodletting, and/or medications.
Hippocrates and other ancient Greek physicians posited that depressive melancholy was the result of an excess of cold black bile in the body (hot black bile caused mania or madness). The greater the overabundance of cold black bile, the more severe the depressive state. To cure a patient of his illness, his black bile simply had to be reduced. While its easy to laugh at this theory, hippocrates did get something right: he concluded that mental illnesses, like severe melancholia, had something to do with the brain: It is the brain which makes us mad or delirious, inspires us with dread and fear, whether. These things that we suffer all come from the brain when it is not healthy, but becomes abnormally hot, cold, moist, or dry. The ancient Greeks believed that depression was caused by an overabundance of cold black bile (one of the fluids that made up the human body and that it had both drawbacks and advantages. Aristotle pondered: Why is it that all men who have become outstanding in philosophy, statesmanship, poetry, and the arts are melancholic? Implicit in this humor-driven approach to melancholia is that one could have varying degrees.
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Finally, studying the history of depression illuminates competing schools of thought about its causes and cures that have existed since Ancient Greece and continue to exist today. Rather than a steady march of progress, our understanding of depression has moved more like a pendulum, with different approaches and philosophies waxing and waning over the centuries. I hope by the end of this crash course through the history of melancholy, youll gain a new perspective on depression. It will also lay roles the groundwork for our further exploration on how to leash the black dog in our own lives. Ancient Greece and Rome, some of the first accounts of what we today call depression, and what was then called melancholia, come from Ancient Greece. One such portrayal can be found on a vase from 400 bc that depicts a downtrodden and gloomy Orestes taking part in a purification ceremony to get rid of the furies — injustice-avenging spirits — that hounded him after killing his mother. Orestes, euripides depicts the tragedys protagonist as exhibiting many of the telltale symptoms of depression: loss of appetite, excess sleeping, lack of motivation to even bathe, constant weeping, chronic exhaustion, and a sense of helplessness. We literature can find further descriptions of melancholic individuals in other popular Greek works as well.
Ill be honest at the outset in admitting that this article, while quite interesting (I think! is a little dry and long. You may be tempted to skip it, and wait for our subsequent articles on depressions causes and treatments, but I hope you decide to wade into todays piece anyway. Learning about the cultural history of depression in the west put my own bouts with it into a new perspective. For starters, its somewhat comforting to know that depression is something humans have dealt with for thousands of years. A common cognitive bias that pops up in individuals in the throes of deep depression is the feeling that their situation is unique and no one knows what theyre experiencing. But when you read accounts of Abraham Lincolns severe melancholy or Samuel Johnsons diary entries agonizing over his despondent writing moods, the illusion of your depressions uniqueness fades away. Whats more, the history of depression provides a much more nuanced view of this mental and emotional state that us moderns call a disease. For much of Western history, depression was a janus-faced condition that could be both a curse and a blessing.
the stigma around mental illness; you wouldnt feel bad about treating a tumor on your spleen, so you shouldnt feel bad about getting help for the invisible tumor on your brain, either. And yet, as much as wed like it to be, mental illness in general, and depression in particular, is not quite that simple. Its a mix of the genetic and the environmental, the physical and the mental, the biological and the psychological. Its also both individual and cultural. This is to say that how we experience depression, and how we make sense of whats happening to us, arises not only from our inner feelings, but what our culture says those feelings should mean. And that prism of interpretation has varied widely through time and place, and continues to diverge today. Its important to know how and why this. Why you should Understand the history of Depression.
For example, when the coal mine, the steel database works and Palmer's shipyard closed down in Jarrow in the north-east of England, every single man in the town was made redundant, redundant : laid off from work because they are no longer needed and Jarrow 'died'. The people of Jarrow organised a march to london - a crusade to seek help from the government, but they were told to go home and work out their own salvation'. In fact, the government did not have a clue how to cope with the depression, and the policies it did put into action were either useless, or made matters worse. Key industries closed in Jarrow sparking the jarrow Crusade. New industry, in the south-east of England where new light industries such as chemicals, electrical goods and automobiles had been developed, families were affluent. In fact, people with jobs benefited from the depression because prices fell and they could buy more! A history of depression? Doesnt depression just exist, like cancer? You cant really write a history of cancer; perhaps how its been treated or diagnosed, but you cant write a history of a disease in and of itself.
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There are two opposing historic images of the depression in 1930s Britain: poverty - lines of broken, unemployed men, rows of shabby housing - and prosperity - new washing machines, automobiles, electricity and cinemas. Wall Street Crash, in 1929, the wall Street Crash plunged the usa into economic depression. The Americans were alarmed, so they called in their loans to other countries and put up customs barriers to stop imports of foreign goods. This created a depression across the rest of the world. Unemployment, unemployment in Britain rose.5 million (25 per cent of the workforce) in 1933. Worst hit were the areas of heavy industry (eg coal, iron, steel, shipbuilding) in Northern Ireland, Scotland, wales and the north of England. These industries were already struggling because they had not modernised after the war and had been essay badly affected by competition from other countries. The depression meant that now these industries crumbled.