For a number of reasons I have recently been thinking about melancholia. I think this is a better word than depression, which seems to me to be overused today. Reading through the psychiatric bible, the International Classification of Diseases Edition 10 (ICD 10) there are numerous types of depression listed covering Agitated depression, Anaclictic depression, Menopausal and Metacarpal depression (separate problems) through Post-Psychotic depression to Vital (recurrent) ( without psychotic symptoms) depression. Clearly simply going to one’s G.P. and saying “I wonder if I might be depressed?” is nowhere near enough. One has to fit a particular sub type of depression-althought quite what defence any of this makes is hard to see. Depression is reported to affect 121 million people world wide. ( which equates to 4% of the world’s population.) A report in the Washington Post recently suggested that the middle East and Africa have the highest rates of depression. The cause? Conflict is number one followed by disease.(www.washingtonpost.com/…/worldviews/…/a-stunning-map-of-depression…) Both of which draw in individuals who have no direct involvement in the action. Which is how depression can feel. That one is a victim of circumstances over which one has little or no control.
In this blog, however, I want to think about what I am going to call melancholia. By which I shall mean “the experience of things not quite fitting together.” it seems that this may last a couple of days or much longer. It may be a temporary state e.g. an essay that won’t come together. Or a temporary disruption to one’s normal routine. Christmas is a good example. We spend times with people who, much as we like them, do things differently to us! This “not quite fitting” is not serious enough to cause a breakdown. But it discomforts us. Freud, in his paper “Mourning and Melancholia” wrote that melancholia is connected to loss. And whilst we may know what we have lost, we may not know the meaning of that loss. So a loss of a job may be understood as my being incompetent. Or as too old. Or too young. What follows from these ideas affects how we cope with the loss. I am suggesting that much the same occurs in my definition of melancholia. There is a temporary loss of something or someone. This loss leaves us unsettled with a feeling of discomfort. Sometimes this discomfort is easily resolved. The essay comes together and is handed in on time. A relationship difficulty is managed and things get back to normal. A new job is found. at other times the “not quite fitting” becomes a more permanent state, leading to a greater disturbance. This is our more standard state of depression which does not remit so easily.
Lars Von Trier’s film “Melancholia” shows how one state can run into another too easily-and with catastrophic consequences.
And another link to Von Trier’s film- which is simply an excuse to listen to a stunning piece of music!