Depression has long since been the plague of humanity. Whether it is a biochemical disorder or mourning the loss of a loved one, nearly every human being has experienced the blues.
However, depression becomes a problem when it persists past the mourning stage. Many people experience it for seemingly no reason. It is that cold sense of apathy that lurks below the surface, siphoning your emotions and your ability to react to your surroundings. Nothing matters anymore when depression has you in its iron grasp.
Eventually, you are reduced to staring listlessly at nothing while the world continues without you; a world that, in your opinion, would perhaps be better off if you did not exist. Such thoughts as those often occupy the mind of a depressed individual, haunting them until they simply cannot bear to live anymore. An American psychiatrist by the name of Hugh Storrow once claimed that depression “..
. probably causes more human suffering than any other single disease – mental or physical. (Campbell, page 66) Having personal experience and a family history of depression, I am well acquainted with the topic; however, there were elements unknown to me that I found fascinating, so I took the time to research the subject further.Hippocrates, known as the “father of medicine,” was the first physician to identify depression as something more than just an emotional state of being. He put forth a conjecture that depression was caused by an excess of black bile, known as “melan chole” in Greek.
Up until the twentieth century, depression was referred to as Melancholia. Campbell, page 67) In the age of Ancient Greece, the treatment for melancholia was to send the patient to hot springs in Italy. Surprisingly, the treatment worked, though scientists discovered it was because the mineral spring was rich in lithium, a metallic element used in contemporary anti-depressants. Many believed that melancholia was repentance for past sins – a form of divine punishment, even. Buddhists believe that finding pleasure in one’s surroundings is the basis for all suffering and that purposeful dysphoria is the first step on the path to salvation.The Kaluli of Papua New Guinea supposed that one must express all of their emotions to achieve inner peace. In turn, the Balinese thought that experiencing emotions at a static rate will lead to a pure and refined internal self. (Kleinman, 1985) Depression is received in various ways across several cultures, but in the western world, it is prevalent in art and literature.
The Elizabethans of England prided themselves on their misery, as they believed melancholia was a disease that could only affect the intelligent and the elite.They empathized with Shakespeare’s tragic hero, the “melancholy Dane” known as Hamlet. (Campbell, page 67) The late 18th century brought forth the German Sturm und Drang movement, which took place in literature and music as a reaction to the Enlightenment. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is considered to be the figure head of Sturm und Drang, famed for his novel The Sorrows of Young Werther, which was widely read across Europe. It was perhaps too seriously received by young romantics, as it caused a string of suicides modelled after Werther’s technique – blowing his brains out with a gun.Sturm und Drang was the forefather of Romanticism, another movement that prized intuition and emotional expression over the strict rationality of the Enlightenment. Poems and novels had a distinctive melancholic tone, as seen in Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Stanzas Written in Dejection, Near Naples”: “Alas! I have nor hope nor health, Nor peace within nor calm around, Nor that content surpassing wealth” (Allison, 1983) A century later, in Hungary, the notorious song “Gloomy Sunday” was composed by Rezsoe Seres.It was a melody so filled with despair that it, like The Sorrows of Young Werther, inspired multiple suicides.
“The melancholy song written by Mr. Seres, with words by his friend, Ladislas Javor, a poet, declares at its climax, “My heart and I have decided to end it all. ” It was blamed for a sharp increase in suicides, and Hungarian officials finally prohibited it. In America, where Paul Robeson introduced an English version, some radio stations and nightclubs forbade its performance. ” (Obituaries, 1968)These are but a few examples among hundreds where depression took hold of cultural aspects such as literature, music, and art. Why were artists so fascinated with it? Some speculate that melancholia was “chic” because it was perceived as an “upper-class malady,” given the fact that notable people such as Abraham Lincoln, Sigmund Freud, Edgar Allan Poe, Sylvia Plath, and Virginia Woolf were afflicted.
(Campbell, page 68) However, depression can manifest in anyone; there are no restrictions of age, social class, or divine favour.Those with a family history of depression are more susceptible to it. Symptoms include: melancholy, irritability, weight changes, loss of interest, sleeping difficulties, appetite changes, difficulties concentrating, and unexplained aches and pains. (Depression Hurts, 2011) The American Psychiatric Association has established two basic types of depressive disorders: those that are endogenous, that are internally caused with no external provocation, and those that are reactive, which are responses to an emotionally-taxing situation.Endogenous cases are often long-lasting and severe, sometimes even resulting in the patient having a loss of contact with reality.
Reactive cases are more often neurotic than psychotic. Usually, the patient understands the reasoning behind their anguish, and they remain rational. Reactive depression often dissipates rather quickly, or even as soon as the stressful situation is improved. Most of the time, reactive cases are easy to differentiate from endogenous cases. However, the question remains, what exactly causes an endogenous case of depression?Sigmund Freud was intrigued in the difference between mourners and genuinely depressed individuals. He rationalized that both suffered the loss of a “love object,” but while the mourner’s loss was tangible, the depressed individual’s was not. Both of them developed hostile feelings, but while the mourner would unconsciously direct them at the lost loved one, the depressed person would turn those feelings inward.
According to Freud, the victim never resolves those feelings. (Freud, 1917) Several theories about chemical imbalances in the brain emerged, most notably the norepinephrine theory that was conceived by Dr.Schildkraut in 1965, which was the belief that depression was caused by decreased levels of norepinephrine in the brain. The original tricyclic antidepressants subdued the production of serotonin and norepinephrine. Following Schildkraut was Dr.
Coppen, who, in 1967, hypothesized that it was serotonin, not norepinephrine that influenced the effectiveness of anti-depressants. Coppen’s hypothesis is that depression is caused by lowered levels of the hormone serotonin. Upon depleting tryptophan, the amino acid required for serotonin production, humans may feel depressed and irritable. Scicurious, 2009) A very famous anti-depressant by the name of Prozac emerged after psychiatrists started considering the serotonin theory. Prozac, scientifically known as fluoxetine, is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor.
When someone takes a dosage of Prozac, this is more or less what happens: “The serotonin transporter is a great target for drugs if you want to increase serotonin levels in the brain. All you have to do is clog it up with an inhibitor (like Prozac), and serotonin can’t be recycled!The serotonin is stuck around the synapse, and as the pre-synaptic neuron continues the fire, will build up, constantly stimulating the post-synaptic neuron, and thus causing a net increase in serotonin effects in the brain. ” (Scicurious, 2009) Nevertheless, just because serotonin relieves depression in some cases, does not mean the depression is caused by low levels of serotonin. As the blogger Scicurious said, “…it’s a well known fact that headaches are not caused by a lack of aspirin. ” However, not all hope is lost for those who suffer from depression.
It is very treatable, whether that is through psychotherapy or medication. In the 1930’s, a new form of treatment was found: electroconvulsive therapy, abbreviated as ECT. The patient was administered chemicals that would put them into a temporary coma while they were receiving the shocks. “It provided dramatic relief to patients judged to be hopelessly in the grip of severe depression; after six to eight treatments, 80 per cent of the patients were completely cured. ” (Campbell, page 77) The only side effects were temporary confusion or memory loss.
So, why was this treatment so effective?Psychiatrists at the time thought the unconscious accepted the shocks as a form of punishment that absolved the feeling of guilt that they perceived was the heart of depression. However, in the 1960’s, a psychiatrist by the name of Gunnar Karl Holmberg found out that the electric shock caused significant biochemical changes in the blood; However, Campbell writes, “Such bodily changes could not be tied directly to the alleviation of depression. ” More recently, the compound Lithium Carbonate has been finding its way into contemporary anti-depressants.It has a high success rate, as seen in Hippocrates’ mineral springs, and it is a natural source rather than the synthetic material of other anti-depressants. Usually after the administering of medication, the psychiatrist can start examining the emotional part of the issue. Sometimes the psychiatrist will request a change in the patient’s routine, in order to give the patient a sense of control over their life. In a few cases, it can simply be a mind-over-matter situation.
The depressed individual can accept their situation as the patients in Tokyo do, and determine that the suffering they endure builds up emotional resilience.Upon rebounding from depression, coupled with the new ability to cope, people often reach new levels of creativity. (Flach, 1986) Depression, or melancholia, has made its mark on Earth, whether it is affecting individuals across cultures, ethnicities, or countries.
It is a prevalent subject in both historical and contemporary arts, and an exact cause for it has yet to be discovered, though many theories exist. It can be treated, and more often than not, it leaves its tortured victim with a newfound sense of inner strength.