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History of Depression

Written by sshowalter, ritasharma.

Throughout history much emphasis had been placed on the cause of depression while in recent times, the focus has shifted to the diagnosis of depression; categorized by a particular set of symptoms. The concept of depression is documented in the earliest of human records. For example, descriptions of conditions resembling depression can be found in the Bible as well as in Egyptian writings circa 2600 B.C. In a biblical reference, King David as well Job seemed to be afflicted by depression. It was the ancient Greeks, however, who provided the first casual theories of depression. Diseases were characterized as disruptions of balance among the fluids or humors in the body. “Melancholia” was hypothed by Hippocrates in the fourth century B.C. to stem from an imbalance of black bile, “darkening the spirit and making it melancholy.” These ideas paved the way for the modern conception of depression, arising with Araetus of Cappadocia around 120 A.D., who characterized melancholia by sadness, a tendency toward suicide, feelings of indifference, and psychomotor agitation.1

In the mid-eighteenth century, Kant turned conceptions of depression back to the body by suggesting that emotions could not cause mental illness. The resulting conception of depression as a somatic ailment prevailed throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It was not until the early twentieth century that theorists such as Abraham2and Freud3 associated psychological/ emotional factors in a causal manner with the onset and maintenance of depression.

Despite its presence throughout history, we in the 21 century seem to have a higher prevalence of depression than our ancestors. According to Dr. Ilardi, author of The Depression Cure, this is due to the fact that our brains and bodies were not designed to handle "the sedentary, isolated, indoor, sleep-deprived, fast-food stressed out pace of twenty-first century life."4


  1. Ingram, R. E., Scott, W., & Siegle, G. (1999). Depression: Social and Cognitive Aspects. In T. Millon, P. H. Blaney, & R. D. Davis' (Eds.), Oxford textbook of psychopathology (pp.203-226). New York: Oxford Press.
  2. Abraham, K. (1911/1960). Notes on the psychoanalytic investigation and treatment of manic-depressive insanity and allied conditions. In Selected Papers on Psychoanalysis (pp. 12-24). New York: Basic Books.
  3. Freud, S. (1917/1950). Mourning and melancholia. In Collected Papers (Vol. 4). London: Hogarth Press.
  4. Alleger, I. (2009)Therapeutic Listyle Change (TLC) to Beat Depression without Drugs [Review of the book The Depression Cure] Townsend Letter retrieved from

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