Mental Depression

December 27, 1972

Report Outline
Wide affliction of mental depression
Social and Psychological Factors
Search for Biologic Understanding
Special Focus

Wide affliction of mental depression

The melancholy days are come, the saddest of the year,” wrote the poet a century ago of the autumnal season. But some today would say that all the days are melancholy now in this eighth decade of the 20th century. For depression is coming to be regarded as the characteristic personal affliction of our time. Depression, according to a National Institute of Mental Health report, has become “a household word on the contemporary American scene.” And a research team studying the so-called “affective [emotional] disorders” observed that “A variety of problems that may be manifestations of depression—melancholy, withdrawal, lethargy, self-blame and self-harm, some physical symptoms—are among the most common complaints brought to the offices of psychologists, psychiatrists, and physicians in general.”

Depression seems to have become so prevalent a malaise that, with hindsight, it no longer seems surprising that in 1972 episodes of serious depression turned up in the background of a candidate for the vice presidency and caused a political tempest. For who can say he has never experienced depression? And who can say—certainly not the experts—at what point a state of dejection within the normal range of experience leaves off and pathological depression, a bona fide mental illness, begins?

Even a mild spell of depression is handicapping. In its severest form depression totally incapacitates the sufferer for employment, study, or normal social and personal relationships. Depression, in all its forms, is a serious condition that extracts a heavy penalty not only from the primary sufferer but from his family and close associates. Among the many manifestations of mental illness, it is the only one—except general paresis, now rare—that can have a fatal ending. Suicide, it has been said, can be considered “the mortality of depressive illness.”

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