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History of depression

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Title: History of depression  
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Subject: Melancholia, Mood disorders, History of psychiatry, Abraham Lincoln, WikiProject Academic Journals/Journals cited by Wikipedia/P44
Collection: Depression (Psychology), History of Psychiatry, Mood Disorders
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History of depression

What was previously known as melancholia and is now known as clinical depression, major depression, or simply depression and commonly referred to as major depressive disorder by many Health care professionals, has a long history, with similar conditions being described at least as far back as classical times.


  • Prehistory to medieval periods 1
  • 17th to 19th centuries 2
  • 20th and 21st centuries 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
    • Cited texts 5.1

Prehistory to medieval periods

The four temperaments clockwise from top left; sanguine; phlegmatic; melancholic; choleric) according to an ancient theory of mental states

In Ancient Greece, disease was thought due to an imbalance in the four basic bodily fluids, or humors. Personality types were similarly thought to be determined by the dominant humor in a particular person. Derived from the Ancient Greek melas, "black", and kholé, "bile",[1] melancholia was described as a distinct disease with particular mental and physical symptoms by Hippocrates in his Aphorisms, where he characterized all "fears and despondencies, if they last a long time" as being symptomatic of the ailment.[2]

Aretaeus of Cappadocia later noted that sufferers were "dull or stern; dejected or unreasonably torpid, without any manifest cause". The humoral theory fell out of favor but was revived in Rome by Galen. Melancholia was a far broader concept than today's depression; prominence was given to a clustering of the symptoms of sadness, dejection, and despondency, and often fear, anger, delusions and obsessions were included.[3]

Physicians in the Persian and then the Muslim world developed ideas about melancholia during the Islamic Golden Age. Ishaq ibn Imran (d. 908) combined the concepts of melancholia and phrenitis.[4] The 11th century Persian physician Avicenna described melancholia as a depressive type of mood disorder in which the person may become suspicious and develop certain types of phobias.[5]

His work, The Canon of Medicine, became the standard of medical thinking in Europe alongside those of Hippocrates and Galen.[6] Moral and spiritual theories also prevailed, and in the Christian environment of medieval Europe, a malaise called acedia (sloth or absence of caring) was identified, involving low spirits and lethargy typically linked to isolation.[7][8]

17th to 19th centuries

Frontispiece of the 1638 edition of The Anatomy of Melancholy

The seminal scholarly work of the 17th century was English scholar Robert Burton's book, The Anatomy of Melancholy, drawing on numerous theories and the author's own experiences. Burton suggested that melancholy could be combated with a healthy diet, sufficient sleep, music, and "meaningful work", along with talking about the problem with a friend.[9][10]

During the 18th century, the humoral theory of melancholia was increasingly challenged by mechanical and electrical explanations; references to dark and gloomy states gave way to ideas of slowed circulation and depleted energy.[11] German physician Johann Christian Heinroth, however, argued melancholia was a disturbance of the soul due to moral conflict within the patient.

Eventually, various authors proposed up to 30 different subtypes of melancholia, and alternative terms were suggested and discarded. Hypochondria came to be seen as a separate disorder. Melancholia and Melancholy had been used interchangeably until the 19th century, but the former came to refer to a pathological condition and the latter to a temperament.[3]

The term depression was derived from the Latin verb deprimere, "to press down".[12] From the 14th century, "to depress" meant to subjugate or to bring down in spirits. It was used in 1665 in English author Richard Baker's Chronicle to refer to someone having "a great depression of spirit", and by English author Samuel Johnson in a similar sense in 1753.[13] The term also came into use in physiology and economics.

An early usage referring to a psychiatric symptom was by French psychiatrist Louis Delasiauve in 1856, and by the 1860s it was appearing in medical dictionaries to refer to a physiological and metaphorical lowering of emotional function.[14] Since Aristotle, melancholia had been associated with men of learning and intellectual brilliance, a hazard of contemplation and creativity. The newer concept abandoned these associations and, through the 19th century, became more associated with women.[3]

Although melancholia remained the dominant diagnostic term, depression gained increasing currency in medical treatises and was a synonym by the end of the century; German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin may have been the first to use it as the overarching term, referring to different kinds of melancholia as depressive states.[15] English psychiatrist Henry Maudsley proposed an overarching category of affective disorder.[16]

20th and 21st centuries

The influential system put forward by Kraepelin unified nearly all types of mood disorder into manic–depressive insanity. Kraepelin worked from an assumption of underlying brain pathology, but also promoted a distinction between endogenous (internally caused) and exogenous (externally caused) types.[15]

German psychiatrist Kurt Schneider coined the terms endogenous depression and reactive depression in 1920,[17] the latter referring to reactivity in mood and not reaction to outside events, and therefore frequently misinterpreted. The division was challenged in 1926 by Edward Mapother who found no clear distinction between the types.[18]

The unitarian view became more popular in the United Kingdom, while the binary view held sway in the US, influenced by the work of Swiss psychiatrist Adolf Meyer and before him Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis.[19]

Sigmund Freud argued that depression, or melancholia, could result from loss and is more severe than mourning.

Freud had likened the state of melancholia to mourning in his 1917 paper Mourning and Melancholia. He theorized that objective loss, such as the loss of a valued relationship through death or a romantic break-up, results in subjective loss as well; the depressed individual has identified with the object of affection through an unconscious, narcissistic process called the libidinal cathexis of the ego.

Such loss results in severe melancholic symptoms more profound than mourning; not only is the outside world viewed negatively, but the ego itself is compromised.[20] The patient's decline of self-perception is revealed in his belief of his own blame, inferiority, and unworthiness.[21] He also emphasized early life experiences as a predisposing factor.[3]

Meyer put forward a mixed social and biological framework emphasizing reactions in the context of an individual's life, and argued that the term depression should be used instead of melancholia.[16]

The DSM-I (1952) contained depressive reaction and the DSM-II (1968) depressive neurosis, defined as an excessive reaction to internal conflict or an identifiable event, and also included a depressive type of manic-depressive psychosis within Major affective disorders.[22]

In the mid-20th century, other psychodynamic theories were proposed. Existential and humanistic theories represented a forceful affirmation of individualism.[23] Austrian existential psychiatrist Viktor Frankl connected depression to feelings of futility and meaninglessness.[24] Frankl's logotherapy addressed the filling of an "existential vacuum" associated with such feelings, and may be particularly useful for depressed adolescents.[25][26]

American existential psychologist Rollo May hypothesized that "depression is the inability to construct a future".[27] In general, May wrote, "depression ... occur[s] more in the dimension of time than in space,"[28] and the depressed individual fails to look ahead in time properly. Thus the "focusing upon some point in time outside the depression ... gives the patient a perspective, a view on high so to speak; and this may well break the chains of the ... depression."[29]

Humanistic psychologists argued that depression resulted from an incongruity between society and the individual's innate drive to self-actualize, or to realize one's full potential.[30][31] American humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow theorized that depression is especially likely to arise when the world precludes a sense of "richness" or "totality" for the self-actualizer.[31]

Cognitive psychologists offered theories on depression in the mid-twentieth century. Starting in the 50s, Albert Ellis argued that depression stemmed from irrational "should" and "musts" leading to inappropriate self-blame, self-pity, or other-pity in times of adversity.[32] Starting in the 60s, Aaron Beck developed the theory that depression results from a "cognitive triad" of negative thinking patterns, or "schemas," about oneself, one's future, and the world.[33]

A half century ago, diagnosed depression was either endogenous (melancholic), considered a biological condition, or reactive (neurotic), a reaction to stressful events.[34] Debate has persisted for most of the 20th century over whether a unitary or binary model of depression is a truer reflection of the syndrome;[34] in the former, there is a continuum of depression ranked only by severity and the result of a "psychobiological final common pathway",[35] whereas the latter conceptualizes a distinction between biological and reactive depressive syndromes.[17] The publishing of DSM-III saw the unitarian model gain a more universal acceptance.[34]

Isoniazid was the first compound to be called an antidepressant.

In the mid-20th century, researchers theorized that depression was caused by a chemical imbalance in neurotransmitters in the brain, a theory based on observations made in the 1950s of the effects of reserpine and isoniazid in altering monoamine neurotransmitter levels and affecting depressive symptoms.[36] During the 1960s and 70s, manic-depression came to refer to just one type of mood disorder (now most commonly known as bipolar disorder) which was distinguished from (unipolar) depression. The terms unipolar and bipolar had been coined by German psychiatrist Karl Kleist.[15]

The term Major depressive disorder was introduced by a group of US clinicians in the mid-1970s as part of proposals for diagnostic criteria based on patterns of symptoms (called the Research Diagnostic Criteria, building on earlier Feighner Criteria),[37] and was incorporated into the DSM-III in 1980.[38] To maintain consistency the ICD-10 used the same criteria, with only minor alterations, but using the DSM diagnostic threshold to mark a mild depressive episode, adding higher threshold categories for moderate and severe episodes.[38][39]

The ancient idea of melancholia still survives in the notion of a melancholic subtype. The new definitions of depression were widely accepted, albeit with some conflicting findings and views, and the nomenclature continues in DSM-IV-TR, the latest version, published in 2000.[40]

There have been some continued empirical arguments for a return to the diagnosis of melancholia.[41][42] There has been some criticism of the expansion of coverage of the diagnosis, related to the development and promotion of antidepressants and the biological model since the late 1950s.[43]

See also


  1. ^  
  2. ^ Hippocrates, Aphorisms, Section 6.23
  3. ^ a b c d Radden, J (March 2003). "Is this dame melancholy? Equating today's depression and past melancholia". Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology 10 (1): 37–52.  
  4. ^ Jacquart D. "The Influence of Arabic Medicine in the Medieval West" in Morrison & Rashed 1996, pp. 980
  5. ^ Haque A (2004). "Psychology from Islamic perspective: Contributions of early Muslim scholars and challenges to contemporary Muslim psychologists". Journal of Religion and Health 43 (4): 357–377 [366].  
  6. ^ S Safavi-Abbasi, LBC Brasiliense, RK Workman (2007), The fate of medical knowledge and the neurosciences during the time of Genghis Khan and the Mongolian Empire, Neurosurgical Focus 23 (1), E13, p. 3.
  7. ^ Daly, RW (2007). "Before depression: The medieval vice of acedia". Psychiatry: Interpersonal & Biological Processes 70 (1): 30–51.  
  8. ^ Merkel, L. (2003) The History of Psychiatry PGY II Lecture (PDF) Website of the University of Virginia Health System. Retrieved on 2008-08-04
  9. ^ Kent 2003, p. 55
  10. ^ "The Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton". Project Gutenberg. 1 April 2004. Retrieved 2008-10-19. 
  11. ^ Jackson SW (July 1983). "Melancholia and mechanical explanation in eighteenth-century medicine". Journal of the History of Medical and Allied Sciences 38 (3): 298–319.  
  12. ^ depress. (n.d.). Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved June 30, 2008, from
  13. ^ Wolpert, L. "Malignant Sadness: The Anatomy of Depression". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-30. 
  14. ^ Berrios GE (September 1988). "Melancholia and depression during the 19th century: A conceptual history". British Journal of Psychiatry 153 (3): 298–304.  
  15. ^ a b c Davison, K (2006). "Historical aspects of mood disorders". Psychiatry 5 (4): 115–18.  
  16. ^ a b Lewis, AJ (1934). "Melancholia: A historical review". Journal of Mental Science 80 (328): 1–42.  
  17. ^ a b  
  18. ^ Mapother, E (1926). "Discussion of manic-depressive psychosis".  
  19. ^ Parker 1996, p. 11
  20. ^ Carhart-Harris RL, Mayberg HS, Malizia AL, Nutt D (2008). "Mourning and melancholia revisited: Correspondences between principles of Freudian metapsychology and empirical findings in neuropsychiatry". Annals of General Psychiatry 7 (1): 9.  
  21. ^ Freud, S (1984). "Mourning and Melancholia". In Richards A (ed.). 11.On Metapsychology: The Theory of Psycholoanalysis. Aylesbury, Bucks: Pelican. pp. 245–69.  
  22. ^ American Psychiatric Association (1968). "Schizophrenia". Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-II (PDF). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc. pp. 36–37, 40. Retrieved 2008-08-03. 
  23. ^ Freeman, Epstein & Simon 1987, pp. 64,66
  24. ^ Frankl VE (2000). Man's search for ultimate meaning. New York, NY, USA: Basic Books. pp. 139–40.  
  25. ^ Seidner, Stanley S. (June 10, 2009) "A Trojan Horse: Logotherapeutic Transcendence and its Secular Implications for Theology". Mater Dei Institute. pp 14-15.
  26. ^ Blair RG (October 2004). "Helping older adolescents search for meaning in depression". Journal of Mental Health Counseling 26 (4): 333–347. Retrieved 2008-11-06. 
  27. ^ Geppert CMA (May 2006). "Damage control". Psychiatric Times. Retrieved 2008-11-08. 
  28. ^ May 1994, p. 133
  29. ^ May 1994, p. 135
  30. ^ Boeree, CG (1998). "Abraham Maslow: Personality Theories" (PDF). Psychology Department, Shippensburg University. Retrieved 2008-10-27. 
  31. ^ a b Maslow A (1971). The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. New York, NY, USA: Viking Books. p. 318.  
  32. ^ Ellis, Albert (1962). Reason and emotion in psychotherapy (Rev. and update. ed.). Secaucus, NJ: Carol Pub. Group.  
  33. ^ Beck, Aaron T. (1979). Cognitive therapy of depression (2. print. ed.). New York: Guilford Pr.  
  34. ^ a b c  
  35. ^ Akiskal HS, McKinney WT (1975). "Overview of recent research in depression: Integration of ten conceptual models into a comprehensive clinical frame". Archives of General Psychiatry 32 (3): 285–305.  
  36. ^ Schildkraut, JJ (1965). "The catecholamine hypothesis of affective disorders: A review of supporting evidence". American Journal of Psychiatry 122 (5): 509–22.  
  37. ^ Spitzer RL, Endicott J, Robins E (1975). "The development of diagnostic criteria in psychiatry" (PDF). Retrieved 2008-11-08. 
  38. ^ a b Philipp M, Maier W, Delmo CD (1991). "The concept of major depression. I. Descriptive comparison of six competing operational definitions including ICD-10 and DSM-III-R". European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience 240 (4–5): 258–65.  
  39. ^ Gruenberg, A.M., Goldstein, R.D., Pincus, H.A. (2005) Classification of Depression: Research and Diagnostic Criteria: DSM-IV and ICD-10 (PDF). Retrieved on October 30, 2008.
  40. ^ American Psychiatric Association 2000a, p. 345
  41. ^ Bolwig, Tom G.; Shorter, Edward (2007). "Melancholia: Beyond DSM, beyond neurotransmitters. Proceedings of a conference, May 2006, Copenhagen, Denmark". Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica Suppl 115 (433): 4–183.  
  42. ^ Fink M, Bolwig TG, Parker G, Shorter E (2007). "Melancholia: Restoration in psychiatric classification recommended". Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica 115 (2): 89–92.  
  43. ^  

Cited texts

  • American Psychiatric Association (2000a). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision: DSM-IV-TR. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc.  
  • Barlow DH; Durand VM (2005). Abnormal psychology: An integrative approach (5th ed.). Belmont, CA, USA: Thomson Wadsworth.  
  • Beck, Aaron T.; Rush J; Shaw BF; Emery G (1987) [1979]. Cognitive Therapy of depression. New York, NY, USA: Guilford Press.  
  • Kent, Deborah (2003). Snake Pits, Talking Cures & Magic Bullets: A History of Mental Illness. Twenty-First Century Books.  
  • Hergenhahn BR (2005). An Introduction to the History of Psychology (5th ed.). Belmont, CA, USA: Thomson Wadsworth.  
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