Where the Stigma is coming from? Brief History of Depression

Depression and other mental health issues is one of the most stigmatized topics. Stigma comes from the lack of knowledge. Mental health issues existed always, but for ages no one understood what it is and what to do with it. Brain itself is very complex and till now there are many open questions about how the brain works. Thus, it’s not surprising that for ages mental health issues were understood incorrectly and it's not a surprise why so many people still have wrong understanding about it.
So, what is a history of depression and mental health and what formed this stigma? Let’s look to summarized timeline:


Earliest Accounts of Depression


The earliest written accounts of depression (at that time of course it was not yet called depression) appeared in the second millennium B.C.E.


At that time, it was believed that depression is a spiritual condition caused by demons. Treatment: it was treated by priests. In some cultures, it was treated by beating a person or leaving him starving, but definitely isolating this person from society.


Other brutal “treatments” were used, for example, it was believed that drilling holes in the skull could cure mental disorders (by letting demons out).


Ancient age


It was believed that depression, which was called melancholia (!), was caused by biological imbalance (even though no one knew the anatomy of the body). Treatment: bloodletting, baths, exercise, and diet.


Despite this, it was still often believed that depression was caused by the anger of the gods.


Middle Ages


More and more people believed that mentally ill people were possessed by the devil or witches. Again, these people had to be isolated as they could affect others. Treatment: exorcisms, drowning or burning.


18th century


During this period, people with depression or other mental health issues were believed to have a weak temperament. Treatment: none, it was believed that nothing can help them, thus they were locked up or left for homelessness.


19th and 20th Centuries


In this century finally some significant changes regarding mental health happened: it’s the time when psychiatry and psychotherapy was developed significantly.


In the 1950s - bipolar disorder was documented and diagnosed for the first time, mental health issues were separated from dementia, the clinical introduction of the first two antidepressant drugs. It was found that drugs could treat depression as a disease.




Today there are a variety of ways to treat depression. All mental health issues are really complex, reasons and symptoms are different for every single person. However, now we know so many things about how the brain works, about reasons that can cause depression and symptoms that can help us to understand it. We now know biological changes that happen in our brain before or during depression.


And of course, now we have so many different ways to treat it. There are different types of antidepressants, there are a lot of different types of therapies, there are a lot of good books and articles, apps and many other things that could help you heal. There are a lot of alternative things to support your main treatment.


As of now it's not clear whether depression as such is curable. There are many studies which show that this is a long-life disease. However, few very important facts to remember:


  1. Depression and other mental health issues are no longer about demons and witches, it's not something unusual, so we should label a person who struggles - he is not different then others.


  1. It's no longer about melancholia, now it's known that it has nothing to do with character.


  1. There is nothing to be worried about taking antidepressants, it's a medicine like all others. It has nothing to do with your personality, character or ability to learn.


  1. Psychotherapy is the most important part of the treatment. Medicine only treats symptoms (insomnia, inability to focus, lack of energy, low mood, etc.), however only therapy can help you to find reasons of depression and learn how to manage life situations that mental health issues never come back again (chronic stress, lose of a loved one, significant life changes, childhood traumas, low self-esteem, etc.)


  1. The most important - even if we think about it as about not curable disease - with depression you can live a very good life - you just need to have a good healthy lifestyle, be kind to yourself and put yourself as a priority.