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«1 FROM MELANCHOLIA TO DEPRESSION A HISTORY OF DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT Thomas A. Ban International Network for the History of Neuropsychopharmacology ...»

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Thomas A. Ban

International Network for the History of Neuropsychopharmacology

From Melancholia to Depression A History of Diagnosis and Treatment1


Introduction 2 Diagnosis and classifications of melancholia and depression 7 From Galen to Robert Burton 7 From Boissier de Sauvages to Karl Kahlbaum 8 From Emil Kraepelin to Karl Leonhard 12 From Adolf Meyer to the DSM-IV 17 Treatment of melancholia and depression 20 From opium to chlorpromazine 21 Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors 22 Monoamine Re-uptake Inhibitors 24 Antidepressants in clinical use 26 Clinical psychopharmacology of antidepressants 30 Composite Diagnostic Evaluation of Depressive Disorders 32 The CODE System 32 CODE –DD 33 Genetics, neuropsychopharmacology and CODE-DD 36 Conclusions 37 References 37


Descriptions of what we now call melancholia or depression can be found in many ancient documents including The Old Testament, The Book of Job, and Homer's Iliad, but there is virtually The text of this E-Book was prepared in 2002 for a presentation in Mexico City. The manuscript was not updated.

no reliable information on the frequency of “melancholia” until the mid-20th century (Kaplan and Saddock 1988).

Between 1938 and 1955 several reports indicated that the prevalence of depression in the general population was below 1%. Comparing these figures, as shown in table 1, with figures in the 1960s and ‘70s reveals that even the lowest figures in the psychopharmacological era (from the 1960s) are 7 to 10 times greater than the highest figures before the introduction of antidepressant drugs (Silverman 1968).

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The prevalence of depression in epidemiological studies prior to (above the dotted line) and after (below the dotted line) the introduction of antidepressants. [Based on Silverman (1968) and Hoenig (1980)].

Hoenig (1980) suggests that the likely explanation for the increase in the prevalence of depression after the introduction of antidepressants is "not a tidal wave of an epidemic of depression" but a "change in our concepts of depressive illness brought about by a widening of our experience with depression, seeing it for the first time in new (outpatient) settings".

In the mid-1990s, the life time risk for depression was estimated as 3% to 4% worldwide (Blazer et al 1994; Horvath and Weissman 1995). In the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (1999) with text revision (DSMIVTM), the lifetime risk for “major depressive disorder”, as shown in table 2, is given as 13% with a point prevalence of 4.75%; the life time risk for “bipolar disorder” as 1% (from 0.4% to 1.6%);

and the lifetime risk for “dysthymic disorder” is 6% with a point prevalence of 3%.

–  –  –

Life-time risk and point prevalence figures for major depression, dysthymia and bipolar disorder.

(Figures are adopted from DSM-IVTM 1999).

For several decades during the 20th century, depressive illness was perceived as a recurrent episodic disease with full remission between episodes. Today, chronic depression [major depressive disorder (MDD) chronic, dysthymic disorder, double depression, MDD in incomplete remission] accounts for an estimated 30% to 35% of all cases of depression (Keller et al 1995; Kessler et al 1994; Michalak and Lam 2002). There is a fine line between depressive illness and melancholic temperament, and as shown in table 3, depressive symptoms and clinical features are present from 6% to 43% of the people in the general population who have never qualified for a depressive diagnosis (Beck 1967; Hoenig 1980).

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Frequency of depressive manifestations & clinical features encountered in the population with no depression and in mild, moderate and marked depression (Beck 1967, Hoenig 1980).

To control depression, the use of antidepressants has grown steadily since the late 1950s. By the late 1990s nearly 3% (1.77 million people) of the 59 million general population in the UK, and probably a higher percentage in the US, were taking one or another antidepressant for depression or for diseases assumedly on the depressive spectrum (Dawson and Tylee 2001; House 2001). This is almost 10 times the population who had required medical attention for affective disorders annually (0.3%-0.4%) prior to the introduction of antidepressant drugs (Mayer-Gross, Slater and Roth 1960).

Nevertheless, in spite of the rapidly growing use of antidepressants in the Western World -- with prescriptions jumping 62% in Canada from 1996 to 2000 – depression has become the fifth leading cause of disability by the end of the 20th century, accounting for 4.2% of the World's Total Burden of Disease in Disability Adjusted Life Years (Kleinman and Cohen 2001; Pearson 2002; World Health Organization 1999). Furthermore, if current trends continue, depression caused disability is expected to become by 2020 the second (to ischemic heart disease) leading cause of disability worldwide, and the largest cause of disability in developing regions (Murray and Lopez 1997).

It has been suggested that in spite of the extensive use of antidepressants, depression is still undertreated even in the Western World --e.g., with prescriptions jumping 69% in Canada from 1996 to 2000-- because of a variety of social and educational factors from poverty to poor compliance; and there are indications that the projected increase in depression-induced disability can be curbed to some extent by increasing the use of antidepressants. In Canada for example, there was a decrease in the point prevalence of major depression (from 2.4% to 1.95) from 1994 to 1996 with the increasing proportion of persons with depression (from 18.2% to 36.6%) receiving antidepressant treatment (Patten 2002). However, considering that only 1 of 3 depressed patients responds to the pharmacological action of antidepressants, depression-induced disability could be significantly reduced only by the identification of the treatment responsive forms of illness to the different antidepressant drugs (Ban 2001).

Since there are no guidelines on how to match different forms of depression with different forms of treatment, in the following the historical development of depressive diagnoses and treatments will be reviewed to provide orientation points for diagnosing and treating depressed patients.


The term, melancholia (black bile), first appeared in the Corpus Hippocraticum (460 to 370 BC). It was used in reference to all chronic mental disturbances which did not qualify for epilepsy, hysteria, or Scythian disease, referred to as transvestism in our current terminology (Adams 1929).

The association between sadness and melancholia can be traced to the first century in Celsus' (1935) treatise, De Medicina. It was also in the first century that Aretaeus recognized that mania, i.e., acute mental disturbance without fever, can be episodic and recurrent, that melancholia, i.e., long lasting sadness, can be short lived, and that mania and melancholia may follow each other in the same patient (Menninger, Mayman and Pruyser 1968). Yet, it was only about four century later, in the fifth century, that Caelius Aurelianus (1950) characterized melancholia as "mental anguish and distress with dejection, silence, animosity, longing for death, suspicion and weeping".


Galen (129-199) revised ancient “humoral theory” of insanity by combining Hippocrates' ideas about the four humors with Pythagorean theory of the four elements, and his own conception of the spirit (pneuma), into a tightly organized system based on Aristotelian logic (Healy 1997).

Yet, irrespective of speculations, he recognized that "symptoms follow disease as shadow its substance", and separated melancholia, the illness, (black bile melancholia), from melancholic temperament (yellow bile melancholia). He also divided melancholia into general melancholia, brain melancholia, and hypochondriacal melancholia (Garrison 1929). For Galen, in variance to prior authorities, the cause (etiology) of melancholia was not restricted to black bile, but included also yellow bile, dietary deficiency, suppression of hemorrhoidal or menstrual flow, and emotional factors.

The first treatise On Melancholy was allegedly written by Galen, but some historians argue that it was compiled at a later date. Regardless, for well over 1000 years through the middle-ages, and well into the renaissance, Galen's conceptual framework dominated the understanding of melancholia (Menninger, Mayman and Pruyser 1968).

Galen's distinction between black bile melancholia and “yellow bile melancholia” was further elaborated in the 6th century by Alexander of Tralles, who characterized patients with black bile melancholia, as sad and fearful, and with yellow bile melancholia, as angry and agitated (Brunet 1933). His “humoral” etiology of melancholia was passed through the work of Avicenna (937-1037) to Timothy Bright (1586), who divided melancholia into natural melancholia, he attributed to black bile, and unnatural melancholia, he attributed to a disharmony of humors. In Bright's (1586) Treatise of Melancholia, natural melancholia was one of the Galenic temperaments, characterized by a sad and gloomy disposition with "a vague feeling of sullenness, irritability, moodiness, and oddities of conduct", whereas unnatural melancholia was a severe mental disorder characterized by "violent and disorderly passions" and insanity. Galen's trichotomy of melancholia was adopted into the classifications of insanity proposed by Paul of Aegina (625-700) in the 7th century, by Jean Fernel (1497-1558) in the 16th, and ultimately by Robert Burton (1621) in the 17th.

Burton, in his Anatomy of Melancholia divided melancholia into head melancholia, body melancholia, and hypochondriacal or windy melancholia” (Menninger, Mayman and Pruyser 1968).


Sydenham's (1624-1663) shift in emphasis from symptoms to disease in the 17th century opened the path for a new era in the understanding and classification of insanity (Faber 1923).

Francois Boissier de Sauvages (1768), one of Sydenham’s followers, was first to undertake the task of classifying diseases, including the insanities. Melancholia (Genus 19), in Sauvages' “nosology” was assigned to the disturbances of intellectual life (Order 3 in Class 8), and, as shown in table 4, divided into 14 species' of disease.

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The 14 different "species of disease", subsumed under melancholia in Boissier de Sauvages' (1768) “nosology”.

An alternative “nosology” to Sauvages was proposed soon after by William Cullen (1769), who assigned melancholia (Genus 66) to the vesanias, i.e., "disorders of judgment without pyrexia", one of the three orders of the neuroses (morbus menti). He perceived melancholia, as a “partial madness”, distinct from mania (Genus 67), i.e., “universal (total) madness”, and from “amentia”, i.e., a form of madness in which people “do not perceive, or do not remember the relations between things"; and divided melancholia, as shown in table 5, on the basis of the "different subjects of the patient’s ravings", into eight species' of disease.

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The eight different "species of disease”, subsumed under melancholia, in William Cullen's “nosology”.

Cullen's (1769) “nosology” was simplified and adopted by Vincenzo Chiarugi (1793-1794), who divided melancholia into true melancholia, characterized by "constant sadness or depression of spirit", false melancholia, characterized by "imaginary happiness or elation due to erroneous ideas", and furious melancholia, characterized by "hatred and violence" against one's self or others.

The roots of Philippe Pinel's (1798) classification were also in Cullen’s (1769) “nosology”.

Pinel (1801) divided insanity into amentia, mania and melancholia; separated idiotism from dementia within amentia; mania with delirium from mania without delirium within “mania”; and defined melancholia as "delirium about one subject exclusively".

Cullen’s division between “partial” and “universal madness” was further elaborated in 1818 by Johann Christian Heinroth in his Psychic Life and Its Disturbances. Simulated by Thomas Reid's (1764) “faculty psychology”, Heinroth (1818) conceptualized mental illness as “exaltation” or “depression” of one or another “faculty of the mind”, i.e., intellect, emotion, or volition. He perceived melancholia”, as a “partial insanity”, a "depression of emotion", without depression of the other faculties, and distinguished between melancholia and delusional melancholia, another “partial insanity” with "mixed exaltation and depression of emotions". Heinroth’s contributions, led to the re-conceptualization of “partial insanity” and to the adoption of the term “depression” for a category if illness that included “melancholia”.

Heinroth's (1818) concept of partial insanity was adopted by Jean-Dominique-Etienne Esquirol (1820, 1838), a disciple of Pinel. He modified Pinel's (1801) classification, as shown in table 6, by replacing “melancholia or delirium upon one subject exclusively” with lypemania (lupos=sadness) or melancholy of the ancient, and the diagnosis of mania without delirium with monomania; by separating monomania from mania; and by dividing monomania into intellectual, affective, and instinctual. His separation of lypemania, defined as "delirium with respect to one or a small number of objects with the predominance of a sorrowful and depressing passion", from the monomanias, led to the separation of melancholia in which sad (dysthymic) mood, affects thinking, emotions and will, from all other depressions included in affective monomania.

–  –  –

Corresponding classes of disease in Pinel's and in Esquirol's classifications.

Esquirol's (1838) distinction between monomania (“partial insanity”) and mania (total insanity) was retained throughout the 19th century.

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