Depression referring to the mind is defined by google as “feelings of severe despondency and dejection”, despondency meaning low spirits or a general feeling of sadness. while the common person hears depression they will think of “Major depression” which as its name states is one of the most common types of depression, (information published by Harvard Medical School in January 2017, updated June 8th, 2018) but in fact, the definition presented by google is a basic overview for a disease that comes in many types and forms, and while symptoms can be common between the types they also have drastically different causes and severities. Over time the reasoning behind, causes and treatments for depression have changed, the 2 main time frames being ancient beliefs and beliefs in the Common Era.
The earliest documentation of depression comes from the 2nd millennium B.C.E in Mesopotamia. In early writings, depression was not considered a physiological disorder, but a spiritual one. Depression was believed to be caused by demonic possession, and as such the ‘cure’ for those suffering from it was exorcism by priests, which ranged anywhere from beatings to starvation which caused the suffering only more pain and/or death. Some Greek and Roman doctors around this time also speculated that depression was not a spiritual illness but a biological and psychological disease, which they treated with methods to raise overall health and mental well-being such as gymnastics, massages, music, baths, etc. Closer towards the common era but still within ancient times, there is an account by Greek philosopher and physician Hippocrates who, at around 400 B.C.E published texts theorizing that depression was caused by an imbalance in four bodily fluids known as humor: Yellow bile, black bile, phlegm, and blood. Certain imbalances of these four liquids within the body would cause different diseases i.e. depression or “Melancholia” which was said to be caused by an excess of black bile. Like the contrast between the common belief in the texts from Mesopotamia, there is a contrast, a Roman philosopher named Cicero who believed that depression had its roots in psychological causes like rage, fear, and grief. Overall in ancient societies, it was commonly believed that depression and all forms of it were caused by demons or angry Gods.
Moving on from the ancient beliefs of depression, we jump to the next most significant changes in how people challenged depression, the Common era. While in the early centuries of the C.E. treatment and belief towards depression was still somewhat “barbaric”, it did have some progression, mainly seen in texts which mention a Persian doctor named Rhazes in 925 C.E. Rhazes was a pharmacist, chemist, and science writer who, along with other Persian physicians approached depression with scientific methods, and explained that depression did indeed stem from the brain, and his treatment was one of the first early forms of behavioral therapy which involved positive rewards for appropriate behavior. Advancing further into the C.E., the middle ages, in which Christianity dominated European thinking in all fields of life, including psychology, because of this people then regressed in their thinking and once again returned to the spiritual beliefs of ‘demons and angry Gods’ being the cause behind depression, and therefore the barbaric ‘torture’ methods to deal with mental illness returned. Although most of the world’s thinking had regressed, a small portion of doctors and early psychologists believed mental illness held its roots in a physical cause, an example of this is from Robert Burton who in 1621 published a book titled “Anatomy of Melancholy” described both social and psychological causes of depression such as poverty. Humanity once again stepped forward with the reach of the 18th and 19th centuries, while the common belief was still wrong, the few who were working towards the correct answer were growing in number. The common consensus for the early 19th century was that depression was the result of a weak temperament that was inherited from one’s ancestors, and therefore could not be cured, the treatment ranged from being shunned by the public eye to being locked up in mental asylums. The common view started to become better by the late 19th century, in that depression was in fact treatable and was caused by social and physical situations. Treatments did not become much better, with reports of Benjamin Franklin having developed an early form of shock therapy to help combat the illness. Advances in the field of research around depression can be shown through German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin who in 1895, became the first to show the difference between Manic depression, or what we now know as bipolar disorder, and dementia praecox, or what we now call schizophrenia, around this same time psychoanalysis, a type of psychotherapy, was developed as a treatment. Jumping forward to modern times, science has greatly advanced, we now understand that depression is not spiritual, and treatments vary with each type of depression, and the level of depression within a person, common depression or major depression is treated with anti-depressants and various psychotherapy treatments, and the effects vary from person to person.
In conclusion, views on depression have greatly changed from Ancient beliefs of spiritual reasoning to a much more modern and scientific view which shows that depression is curable and not caused by some evil spirit.