The Anatomy of Melancholy

The Anatomy of Melancholy

– in 1621, The Anatomy of Melancholy etc., was published
– it was 36 word title, some 1200 pages in length & was written by Robert Burton – his ambition was to be encyclopaedic & he wrote it in English
– Depression is today considered a global scourge & is more complex in its types
– depression & anxiety & their definitions have cultural influences too
– burton was influenced by:
– the SToics & Seneca (in the areas of remediation & prevention – cognitive understanding of emotions – emotions are influenced by beliefs & to change emotions you had to modify your beliefs)[like CBT TODAY]
– Aristotle & the faculties
– renaissance doctors & their belief that the mood disorder of melancholia was related to the imagination
– Christianity
– he also defined the notion of the habituation effect of a networked model of negative thinking cycles – sadness, despair & daydreaming thoughts which cluster together & progressively build & overwhelm the individual [creating what are today described as negative feedback loops] – note: how this is a very modern understanding similar to today.
[this underlies the contemporary thinking about depression]

Symptoms of Melancholy (note: this does not suggest a causal relationship):
– insomnia
– inertia [the more you do, the more you can do]
– bad feelings about yourself/low self-esteem
[rather the symptoms are Bi-directional, not uni-directional]

He identified lifestyle factors for good health:
1) the air we breathe
2) the amount of sleep we take
3) cognitive behavioural exercises (to manage what he referred to as the “passions” or emotions) to achieve & maintain “balance” (evaluate your conclusions & reasoning)
4) diet
[he notes self-help techniques are best to treat depression, including healthy lifestyle & questioning CBT-style of thoughts, rather than any one “silver bullet” style treatment & the notion of “keeping a balance”]

She notes that CBT HAS a deep background in philosophical ideas

– she also notes that Burton could not be used diagnostically today, with “his melancholy” including anxiety symptoms including OCD
– she also notes that women are not included in any substantive way in Burton’s text

Source: The Philosophers Zone | Podcast date: 07.02.2016


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