The Bipolar Bum

Backpacking and Bipolar II. Taking Manic Depression on tour.

Brain Diseases Are “Not First World Problems” Pt.1 – Historical References

H&J debunks the idea that depression, bipolarty e.t.c are uniquely western, wealthy indulgences.

I think not.

I think not.

 

“Notice how they don’t yammer on about depression in Africa or anywhere else that’s poor? Man-up! Get a grip!” – Words that scar. Where I lived in the U.K depression is a bi-word for lazy and anyone who lives on an incapacity benefit because of a debilitating mental illness is generally thought of as a fake manipulating the system for an easy life.  This post is to say, Goya might not have run a blog about depression, Jackson Pollock might not have been a recipient of a disability pension and Hippocrates may not have had access to Pubmed – But mood disorders have been a part of humanity for as long as we have records of humanity.  These diseases are NOT a western, wealthy indulgence – They are a part of the human condition and are likely as old as our species itself.

 

Mood disorders have been medicalised since the fifth century BC.  In ancient Greece Hippocrates was largely credited with a “Treatise on the Sacred Disease”.  The sacred disease being epilepsy.  He described an imbalance of the humours, involving an excess of black bile, as being the result of “a long labour of the soul”.  While the Greeks were mainly concerned with diseases that manifested with readily observable, psychotic symptoms (schizophrenia, epilepsy, substance abuse etc), Hippocrates also gives the following list of symptoms evident when a patient has an excess of black bile:

 

  • Sadness
  • Anxiety
  • Moral Dejection
  • Tendency To Suicide
  • Aversion To Food
  • Despondency
  • Sleeplessness
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Prolonged Fear

 

Sound familiar?  The Ancient Greek words for Black Bile were : melaina chole.  It is where the ancient and historical label for depression is derived from – Melancholia.

 

Hippocrates was the earliest recorded proponent of medicalising mood disorders and the damaged mind.  His treatments involved exercise, a change in diet but most tellingly – early medications and what he called “Advise and action”, what we would call therapy.  He identified the brain as being the centre for emotions and thoughts and can be assigned most of the credit for founding the school of thought that didn’t involve evil spirits, gods or superstitious beliefs about the ‘soul’.

 

If we assume that possession by evil spirits and maladies of the soul are also direct references to mental illness (As they are in parts of modern day Africa for instance) then we can trace the genesis of our understanding of mental illness to shaman/witchdoctor tools dated as far back as 10000BC, and the ancient Egyptian ideas of caring for the health of your soul.

 

Now you know, definitively.  The next time you have the ‘first world problems’ accusation levelled at you – tell the bearer of that outdated (by thousands of years no less), ignorant and incorrect assumption to go forth and multiply (Edited for polite readers, but you get it).  We have evidence of the existence of these diseases before we had the concept of disease; These illnesses were prevalent enough that they caused research and development of treatments more than two thousand years before we had the notion of first, second, third world countries.

 

I highly recommend the reading of Andrew Solomon’s book – The Noonday Demon.  In it he gives a full history of depression.  The genesis for the modern day view of depression as a middle class indulgence is also explored in depth.  I don’t want to explore the idea here fully, but the following quote should illuminate quite well the pernicious, vile schools of thought that are totally responsible for the growth of modern day stigma.

 

“The Protestant ascetics of the later eighteenth century attributed depression to society’s decadence and pointed to high rates of the complaint among an aristocracy nostalgic for its past.  What had once been a mark of aristocratic sophistication was now the mark of a moral decay and weakness, and the solution was to eviscerate complacency.”

 

Edmund Burke’s view was that: “melancholy, dejection, despair, and often self-murder, is the consequence of the gloomy view we take of things in this relaxed state of body.  The best remedy for all these evils is exercise or labour.”

 

In his book Solomon assembles a barrage of such quotes that would still the tongue of any thinking detractor (Though we can do nothing about unthinking bigots).  His description of the first asylums and of the Protestant dim view on all mental illness is enough to chill the blood.  Having read his entire history of depression the quote I agree with most, and I hope you’ll take my word for is:

 

“Apart from the time of the inquisition, the eighteenth century was probably the worst time in history to suffer from a rough mental disorder”

 

Reading The Noonday Demon will seriously help ANYONE who struggles to feel justified in their illness.  If, like me, your upbringing means you have a dismissive view of your own illness sometimes – this book will arm you to the teeth to dismantle any argument that your illness is somehow your fault or a sign of poor character.  It does so by pointing out the exact moment in history when loud-mouthed bigots set the snowball of stigma rolling.

 

All the best,
H&J

References and Links:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/01/diagnosing-mental-illness-in-ancient-greece-and-rome/282856/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Sacred_Disease
http://www.amazon.com/The-Noonday-Demon-Atlas-Depression/dp/0684854678
http://www.ted.com/talks/andrew_solomon_depression_the_secret_we_share

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27 comments on “Brain Diseases Are “Not First World Problems” Pt.1 – Historical References

  1. thoughtation
    03/06/2014

    I enjoyed reading this. My question to you is: If mental illnesses are historically and cultural relative, what do you thing your BP is to you right now? I think you may enjoy Michel Foucault’s work Madness and Civilisation.

    Like

    • drheckleandmrjibe
      03/06/2014

      I’m having a bit of a cloudy day today, hence the fluffiness of that article 😛 Could you just rephrase your question for me and I’ll answer it.

      Cheers
      H&J

      Like

      • Anonymous
        03/06/2014

        There isn’t an answer to my question. it’s just an observation, part of the reason I follow your blog is because it makes me think about something Imhave no experience of. Given that I considered becoming a psychologist once, I am still interest in the mind and it’s contents. It’s a great universe to explore.

        Like

  2. amandaquirky
    03/06/2014

    I really liked this.

    In fact, I shared it on my Facebook Wall. That’s the true mark of sincere appreciation.

    I hope you’re basking.

    Go on.

    Bask!

    –AmandaQuirky

    Like

  3. foxfirepantheon
    03/06/2014

    Reblogged this on The Mind of Spencer and commented:
    So true, humanity has a mind, despite differences in culture and interpretation, we all share emotion similarly with numerous expressions and conjugations. Ultimately boils down to the human experience of our analog perceptual and flawed consensus reality.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. paxkayak
    03/06/2014

    awesome post. When I was first diagnosed I distinctly remember hearing my mother say, “I think you just need more Jesus.” … what the heck does that even mean? She’s come a long way and gets it now. It took many years of believing that Satan didn’t have a stronghold on me – that what’s been going on is actually medical and real. Though, we could all use a little more Jesus I’m sure. 🙂 And Ghandi and Mother Theresa and Buddha and Oprah.

    Like

    • drheckleandmrjibe
      03/06/2014

      And Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Stephen Fry. What an interesting internal discussion we’d have then 😛 Especially between our mental Hitchens and Theresa.

      I’m glad your mum has done the legwork to catch up with a decent understanding of your illness. The resistance of families to the diagnoses we’re given is a really pervasive issue that everyone seems to have on some level. Inspiration for a future post, definitely 🙂

      All the best,
      H&J

      Like

  5. glenn2point0
    03/06/2014

    Great article!
    I first heard about Andrew Solomon only weeks ago, on 20 May 2014, when he was interviewed on a radio show. Here’s the link http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2014/05/20/4008150.htm
    He is interviewed about his new book “Far From the Tree”.
    Again, thanks for the post. It puts mental illness in its proper context.

    Like

    • drheckleandmrjibe
      03/06/2014

      Ah, brilliant! Cheers Glenn, I’ve not heard it or read anything about his new book yet. I’ll check out the link later on today.

      All the best,
      H&J

      Like

  6. hellokalykitty
    03/06/2014

    I am recently diagnosed bipolar and finding a lot of comfort in your recent posts :). Thank you

    Like

    • drheckleandmrjibe
      03/06/2014

      FANTASTIC! Actually helping people and finding out about it is the best encouragement any of us could have! Thank you very much for taking the time to write this.

      All the best,
      H&J

      Like

  7. Marie Abanga
    03/06/2014

    I seem to be the only African seriously interested in finding out about mental illness. I mean, our convention is that those terms are western for what we attribute to witchcraft and demonic attacks or devine retribution. Ha, Africa has beating the west to the sorcery and religion saga so l think. It damages faster than the side effects of even an overdose of tegretol. It’s a shame people don’t want to Man up or research on.
    Thank you H&J and may you get better and better. Same to us all in the “elite club”?:-)

    Like

    • drheckleandmrjibe
      03/06/2014

      I have to say, that is so fucked up. So medical diagnoses are just a western analogue for daemonic possession and evil spirits…

      That provides the perfect barrier to ever learning about these conditions for what they are. People are more likely to learn about evil spirits e.t.c and see the western terminology purely as analogous to the things they’ve been told. Truly horrendous.

      I can’t profess to being elite in any field, Marie :p I’m currently a jobless guy who’s possessions fit into a knapsack drifting around and trying to figure things out about himself that everyone else seems to know by default, haha.

      Thanks a lot for the kind words and continued support 🙂

      H&J

      Liked by 1 person

      • Marie Abanga
        03/06/2014

        Hahaha dear H&J,

        To me, you are an “elite” (see the quotes, it is not the implication given to it by ‘society’, ‘conventions’, ‘norm’ or etc) because you started this self-discovery journey and thought to share it with us all. 🙂

        Like

  8. ritlingit
    03/06/2014

    Reblogged this on Inside the Stormy Prison and commented:
    Doing the “lazy” thing and reblogging thing. I saw a post of an article on facebook stating a similar premise. Basically Mental Illness is made up because we first world inhabitants are a spoiled and indulgent society. Flames of rage usually rise up within me so I don’t comment but leave it on my page and if I go back toit I’ll indulge myself (maybe,) then.
    Right now my eyes are burning. I need to sleep, I’ll be taking Mom into a cat-scan appointment at 7 am tomorrow so I will try to finish this up quickly and hit the sack.

    Like

  9. escharae
    03/06/2014

    I stumbled upon Solomon’s TED Talk some weeks ago (I even wrote a little blog about it) and went on to purchase The Noonday Demon, but I haven’t managed to start reading yet. I do have to find the time to though, as your blog post just made me even more interested. Thanks!

    Like

    • drheckleandmrjibe
      03/06/2014

      Honestly, it’s excellent. You’ll love it I’m sure. There are chapters where, if you’re not in the best place, you might have to put it down for a while. I read the whole thing fairly quickly and I had to move onto something lighter immediately after. Living and reading and writing about depressive episodes is a bit much! Haha

      All the best,
      H&J

      Like

  10. renc8
    03/06/2014

    I’ve watched Solomon’s ted talk about a billion times over the past few months. I love him as someone with bipolar and OCD and I love him as a bisexual person. He speaks volumes to those parts of me. I’m glad to hear that his book is also worth a read!

    Like

    • drheckleandmrjibe
      04/06/2014

      Sounds like you need to get the book! 🙂 Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      All the best,
      H&J

      Like

  11. mbprc2014
    04/06/2014

    Reblogged this on My Bipolar Roller Coaser and commented:
    Fantastic blog post on the history of mental illness- which is NOT just a first world problem!

    Like

  12. destroythequeen
    05/06/2014

    I’ve heard too many times that ‘mental illness is a 1st world problem’. If you believe that people in Africa, or Papua New Guinea or India don’t suffer from mental illness then you’re an idiot, to say the least. I’ve also heard that mental illness was ‘created’ by drug companies to sell medication. I’ve been told I do not need medication, only to smile more. I’ve been told to just ‘think positively!’. All of these are incorrect statements from close minded ignorant bigots. It’s important information is shared in the hope we can get rid of the stigma and misunderstanding surrounding mental illness. Excellent post H&J.

    Like

    • drheckleandmrjibe
      05/06/2014

      Thanks very much for the kind words and support. I knew that most people would have some experience of this ridiculous line, I’ve heard it countless times and I gradually get closer and closer to snapping each time.

      All the best,
      H&J

      Like

  13. louisajd
    06/06/2014

    Fab post, as always! Spot on!

    Like

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