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Depression is the number one mental health condition today, affecting more than 26% of the U.S. adult population and necessitating an increased number of psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners across healthcare. Because of this statistic, it’s safe to say that depression remains a problem — not only in the United States but throughout the world. But because people experience depression differently and show signs of different symptoms, the stigmas and stereotypes behind it aren’t the same as they once were.

Depression has an interesting history when it comes to how it’s been viewed over the ages. The ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians took signs of depression as spiritual issues, even going so far as to believe people were possessed by demons. It was typically handled through beatings and starvation in order to drive the demons away.


Though doctors and scientists continuously developed theories surrounding mental health throughout history, the basic understanding of depression and its symptoms hadn’t changed much even through the middle ages. Exorcisms weren’t uncommon, as well as admitting people with symptoms of depression to sanitariums with harsh conditions.


By the time the 16th and 17th centuries came around, things like witch hunts still weren’t uncommon, but doctors began to rethink the causes of mental illnesses, suggesting they were caused by natural circumstances and not supernatural ones.

The Age of Enlightenment

The 18th century was often referred to as the Age of Enlightenment. People began to embrace intellect and culture, creating a stark contrast to the Middle Ages, where intellect wasn’t often explored. It was a movement particularly popular in Europe and then North America.


Unfortunately, depression’s reputation didn’t get much better during this age of reason. In the early part of this era, depression was viewed as a weakness in temperament. It was something that people believed couldn’t be changed or treated. People with depressive symptoms were sometimes locked away or shunned from their families and communities.


Thankfully, people began to realize the symptoms could be treated. But, the treatment options weren’t exactly easy or any less invasive. While doctors suggested it was important to talk about inner problems, treatments for depression during this time included everything from water immersion to a special type of spinning stool. Treatments ranged from simple changes in diets to more extreme solutions, like forced enemas and vomiting.


As you might expect, none of these “treatments” were very effective in helping with severe cases of depression. People who were really suffering from this mental health condition often underwent lobotomies to help “calm” their brain. But these procedures often led to things like poor decision-making and dramatic personality changes. There was also a high risk of coma or death during and after these surgeries.


Coping: Then vs. Now

The way we look at depression today is obviously completely different from how it was viewed in the 18th century. There has been a long road to travel for us to understand it the way we do now. Even in the early 20th century, treatments for depression weren’t very effective, especially for people with severe cases.


Today, because we understand more about the condition, people can choose from a variety of treatment options. There are many factors that can contribute to depression, including medical problems, stress, trauma, or even genetics. Because of these factors, it’s important for depression to be treated on an individual basis. That’s why there are so many options designed to help people who are struggling.


Some coping mechanisms still aren’t extremely effective (or healthy). People who don’t seek out professional help for their depression might try to self-medicate with alcohol. Unfortunately, excessive drinking can lead to a slew of potential health problems, including certain cancers, liver disease, heart disease, and high blood pressure.


There are healthier ways people manage their symptoms of depression today, including taking natural remedies like CBD oil. Things like mindfulness, meditation, exercise, and finding a support group or even a canine companion/emotional support dog can help someone to deal with the ups and downs of daily depression.


Of course, seeing a therapist, counselor, or medical doctor is often the best way to treat depression or anxiety. Some people benefit from medication, while others use practices like cognitive therapy to work through their issues.


The big difference between coping with depression and anxiety today versus the 18th century is the understanding we now have of the condition. Because it is so prominent, we’ve been forced as a society to continuously take a closer look at what depression is and how it really affects people. Because of that, different forms of treatment are constantly being developed.


There are no longer so many negative, or even frightening, connotations associated with depression. Instead, it’s recognized as a condition that impacts millions of people and that can often be effectively treated. We’ve certainly come a long way in the world of mental health since the 18th century — something we can all be grateful for!

About the Author:
Frankie Wallace contributes to a wide variety of blogs and writes about many different topics, including politics and the environment. 
Wallace currently resides in Boise, Idaho and is a recent graduate of the University of Montana.