History of Depression

Depression is a centuries old illness and was referred to as melancholia as a result of excessive black bile. Hippocrates posited that personality and mental illness were related to body fluids called humours categorised as yellow bile, black bile, phlegm and blood. Mental illnesses were put into four groups; phrenitis (brain fever), mania and melancholia (depression). The relation is that too much black bile caused melancholia according to Hippocrates. For therapy, blood was removed and the body was then bathed and exercised amid dieting to treat depression.

Romans however recommended lashing to drive out demons because they believed they were the source of depression. For the Persians, hydrotherapy (bathing) was the preferred mode of treatment as well as behaviour therapy or rewarding good behaviour. When Christianity was the dominant religion, depression was said to be a spiritual illness not physical caused by spirits or demons. Exorcism was used to drive the demons out. Barbaric solutions such as exorcism, beating, starvation, drowning, burning or restraint were used because of the belief that mental illnesses were contagious. Others used exercises, massage, diet(donkey milk), music and baths to alleviate depression. This was common in Europe in the 16th and 17th century.

Early 19th century paved way for a new line of thought that depression was inherited and couldn’t be treated leading to homeless, poor and imprisoned patients. Old literature shows what looks like modern day depression and the continuous ways people have tried to treat it. That symptoms defining depression have been there since time immemorial is a great comfort to know, that this mental illness has been dealt with by humans for thousands of years now.

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