When is Sorrow Sickness? – History of Depression

“Dad” the little voice quivered “I don’t feel so good”.
Dad, in response, slowly lowered the tab from his line of vision, removing the earbuds in the process. “You have been telling me the same thing for a long time. What’s the problem?”
“I don’t feel like doing anything. I don’t like eating cornflakes all the time, I don’t like to play with him dad…and my friends, they’re mean, always killing me in’ among us’ and I–”
“ It’s all in your head sweetie” With a rather annoyed flick he covered his face back with his brick of a tablet. “Please finish your breakfast, it’s getting cold. And finish your homework.”

At this point, I’d urge the reader to analyze for themselves the possible outcome for such fictitious but normal everyday scenario acting as the initiator event, in roughly one in every 20 Indians registering themselves as “depressed”, as determined by WHO in the National Mental Health Survey 2015-16. But what is depression?

What is Depression?

The term “depression” is akin to a recess i.e. decrease in terms of the world economy. However, concerning psychology, it refers to a major imbalance in the ways someone relates to his/her usual sources of joy. For example, the person in question experiences a drop or change in feelings, reduction in energy to carry out usual daily activities – often showing characteristic persistent sadness. With the pandemic raging on, and the trend for the occurrence of depression becoming alarmingly steep with every new study, it is becoming more and more important to gain an insight into depressive behaviors and some significant symptoms.

History of Depression

An all virtual world: Digitalised culture and the new normal – too much to bear?

Before jumping headfirst into the whirlpool of the same age-old arguments against depression, we should understand that depression doesn’t feature one particular disease – it is an effect of multiple social, biological and psychological factors culminating as one.

Demons of Depression – The early flames:

Tracing the roots of depression presents a holistic approach to understanding, especially relevant to the mental crisis accompanying the COVID-19 pandemic. Depression was featured as an effect of demonic possession in the second millennium BC in Mesopotamia as its earliest written entry. Usually dealt with by priests, distressing methods of restraints and physical beatings and starvation were often preferred to drive the demons out. Few early Greeks and Romans however believed depression to be a biological and psychological illness.

The charred remains of depression and its stampedes abound in the common era to Middle Ages and the Renaissance, prevailing in more or less a similar line of confusion and wary approaches – witch hunts and executions of the mentally handicapped being quite common. It was not before The Age of Enlightenment these approaches took on a different turn.

Age of Enlightenment to Modern Era – Has the torch of enlightenment died out?

During the 18th and 19th centuries, also called the Age of Enlightenment, depression came to be viewed as an inheritable and irreversible weakness in temperament. During the latter part of this Age, doctors often suggested aggression to be the root “evil” of depression.

In 1895, the German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin became the first to distinguish manic depression, now known as bipolar disorder, as an illness separate from dementia praecox (the term for schizophrenia at that time). Around this same time, psychodynamic theory and psychoanalysis—the type of psychotherapy based on this theory—were developed. Psychoanalysis as proposed by Sigmund Freud, often referred to melancholia as a result of loss, either real (like grieving a death) or symbolic (like unfulfillment of goals). Other doctors, however, saw depression as a brain disorder only.

So where does this bring us Today?

Snaking its way into the 20th century, with the rise in cases of depression worldwide, our understanding of depression has advanced by leaps and bounds – but we’re still standing at one shore of a vast ocean. Modern views often take into account the causes as well the cyclical effects of relevant symptoms. Doctors are also aware that certain medical conditions like hypothyroidism may cause depressive symptoms.

Targeted neurotransmitters are often the preferred instances of treatments, along with electroconvulsive treatments being utilized in treatment-resistant depressive instances or severe cases where immediate relief is required.


Sorrow vs Depression: A Layman’s Guide –

Then how would you know when you need professional guidance or just need a sleeping pill to leave your sorrows and sadness behind for the blissful escape of sleep?

  • Feelings of discouragement
  • Prolonged sadness and demotivated feeling
  • Hopelessness
  • A loss of interest in activities that the individual once found enjoyable

In severe cases, thinking about or attempting suicide may trickle into these initial symptoms. They may stop communicating with peers and family and may show reluctance to attend institutions, for example, schools. If these feelings last longer than 2 weeks, a healthcare professional may diagnose the person with major depressive disorder (MDD).

History of Depression

Symptoms of MDD:

  • A daily depressed mood that lasts for most of the day, nearly every day, with noticeable signs of hopelessness and sadness
  • A loss of interest in normal activities for an extended amount of time
  • Significant and unintentional weight loss or gain
  • Insomnia, sleeplessness, or increased amounts of sleep that affect normal schedules
  • Perpetual tiredness and low energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt on a daily basis
  • Inability to concentrate or make decisions
  • Recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, or suicide attempts or plans

Any five of these symptoms together extending for 2 weeks at a stretch can be diagnosed as MDD, provided these are linked to depression only and not another medical diagnosis like substance abuse.

Bottom line:

Sadness is a part of depression only – it doesn’t span it altogether.  An all-digital world is rapidly curbing down the opportunities for face-to-face interactions and traditional hangouts. Instead, PlayStation and Xbox nights and incessant mobile addiction only add to the pile of increasing root causes of depression. Proper exercise, diet, a good night’s sleep, and a non-judgemental open attitude while interacting with friends, family and kids are just simple but essential steps in boosting mental health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control’s manual on preventing suicide, “connectedness and social capital together may protect against suicidal behaviors by decreasing isolation, encouraging adaptive coping behaviors, and by increasing belongingness, personal value, and worth, to help build resilience in the face of adversity.”

So, please, listen to others. Listen to the pathos of human life to blunten the fangs of the rising Depression.

Sources –

  1. Depression among Gen Z is skyrocketing – a troubling mental-health trend that could impact the rest of their lives – Businessinsider.in
  2.  Medical News Today – The Difference between Depression and Sadness.
  3. Tipton CM. The history of “Exercise Is Medicine” in ancient civilizations. Adv Physiol Educ. 2014;38(2):109–117. doi:10.1152/advan.00136.2013.
  4. Mondimore FM. Kraepelin and manic-depressive insanity: An historical perspective. Int Rev Psychiatry. 2005;17(1):49-52. doi:10.1080/09540260500080534/
  5. The History of Depression by VeryWellMind.com.
  6. Depression-in-India-Let-s-talk-5_April-2017


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