What is depression?
Depression is a mental condition that is characterised by feelings of severe dejection. A person suffering from depression may experience a low mood, intense sadness, loss of interest in daily activities, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness and even feelings of worthlessness. These feelings may persist for a long period of time leading to interference with one’s normal life. Apart from the mental symptoms, depression can also be characterised by physical symptoms such as weakness and loss of sleep.
Depression may be caused by the struggles one has gone through in life and also other issues including loss and stressful situations. In addition, depression may occur due to environmental and genetic factors. Certain drugs like corticosteroids may also cause depression.
Depression is considered as a health problem. In fact, the World Health Organisation classifies depression as the most common illness in the entire world and estimates that millions of people are affected by depression. Depression is diagnosed and treated by medical specialists, mostly psychiatrists but also clinicians in other cases.
History of depression
Historical records show that depression has been in occurrence for ages. Depression was referred to as Melancholia in the past. Records which were written in the Millennium BC show that Melancholia was one of the health problems in Ancient Mesopotamia. The people of Mesopotamia at that time believed that mental illnesses were caused by demons and priests were called upon to attend to such cases.
Ancient Greek physician, Hippocrates, classified melancholia as a form of mental illness and believed that it occurred due to the presence of excess black bile in the spleen. Hippocrates used bloodletting technique to remove blood from the body of patients who came to him with depression. In addition, he employed activities such as exercise and bathing as remedies for depression. Hippocrates’ concept of black bile shows that he believed that depression had a biological cause unlike in the case of Mesopotamia where it was believed that depression and other mental illnesses had spiritual causes.
Hippocrates believed that mental health conditions and personality traits occurred as a result of balanced and imbalanced body fluids. These fluids were referred to as humour and they included yellow bile, black bile, blood, and phlegm.
In ancient Rome however, a different concept of melancholia was held from that in Greece. Cicero, a Roman philosopher, held the argument that melancholia was caused by grief, fear, and rage. It was also believed that melancholia occurred as a result of the anger of the gods and also because of demons. Shackles and beating were recommended as remedies for depression and other mental illnesses.
Depression was also considered a mental illness in Persia and physicians applied hydrotherapy to treat it. Reward for positive behavior was also employed as a form of treatment for depression and other mental illnesses.
In the Middle Ages, the scientific explanations for depression were dropped and religious beliefs especially those of Christianity were used to explain the cause of depression and other mental illnesses. In Europe, people held beliefs that most mentally ill persons were demon-possessed or had been bewitched. Treatment means such as exorcism and even burning were applied to those with mental illnesses. Some mentally ill persons were also locked up in designated areas known as ‘lunatic asylums’. In the Middle Ages, it was also believed that people with mental illnesses could spread these illnesses to others.
14th century saw people return to the scientific explanations for depression and other mental illnesses. Some people however still believed that depression had spiritual causes. Depression was later on also linked to genetics.