Women and depression through the ages. Part one.
Birth of civilisation, Women and mental illness
It is a fact that, in Britain, more women then men are treated for the symptoms of depression. 1 in 4 women as opposed to 1 in ten men will be treated for depression at some point in there life. In order to understand why more women are depressed, and more women are dependent on medication to make life bearable, we first must look at the history of women and their roles in society and how their roles developed, leaving them feeling depressed.
The philosophy of the Ancient Greek in their search for utopia, developed a world that did not take into account the needs of women. The main concern of the Ancient Greeks was the protection of society, and, as men were physically stronger they were assigned the duty of guardianship of the state. They went through a process of socialisation or training to enable them to carry out that role, women were socialised in to their roles of carers. This act of socialisation put women into a powerless position, a position that would continue throughout history.
In a world still inhabited by primitive tribes, in an attempt to create social harmony and tame anarchy the laws of rationality, were introduced. The laws of rationality followed the teachings of Plato (427-347 BC). Plato, in his search for the 'Ideal State', studied the problems of existing states in order to find a solution to war and discontentment and presents the 'Ideal State', as the answer. In his dialogue, the Republic, Plato claimed that, the creation of a good state depends on its being governed with reason, for this reason, philosophers and the educated should govern the state. Plato wanted all citizens to be educated, or, socialised from an early age into good citizens. They were to be educated in self control of the urges or the irrational side of their nature.
The Ancient Greeks had no knowledge or understanding of individual inner emotional life. Man was judge by his actions not by his thoughts, nevertheless, we are told that the philosophers of the time, set about subjecting nature, conciousness and society to reason. The noblest faculty in man became rationality. As rationality became the norm, behaviours once accepted as punishments from the Gods, were now regarded as irrational and therefore mad.
In essence, Plato concentrated on the roles of men within the community, mainly because of their physical strength, and he introduced the idea of 'private property'. This idea of private property was extended to women and children. The sexual activity of women strictly confined to and controlled by her husband to ensure that all children she bore belong to him. Women were at the mercy of their biological constitution and their role in society became that of reproduction. Women, along with the irrational became alienated. They were excluded from activities outside that of nurturing as, the demands of initial care for a human infant was prolonged and intensive. Women's ability to procreate put them in a powerless position as it resulted in continuous caring for infants and meant they became dependent of males for material provisions. Women struggled with their roles and experienced what the the Greek physician, Hippocrates described as melancholia, an early word for depression. Hippocrates theory was that mental illness was the result of an imbalance of four bodily fluids or humours, namely black bile, yellow bile, blood and phlegm. Too much black bile in the body was thought to be the cause of melancholia; too much yellow bile explained irritability and anxiousness; too much blood, changeable temperament. Treatments prescribed by Hippocrates for these symptoms were, abstinence from sexual activity, sobriety, careful diet and tranquillity.
Around the Thirteenth Century, the Dark Ages saw the demise of the Greek and Roman civilisations. Untold millions were dying as a result of the plague. Economic problems that ensued, led to political and religious changes in which the church and its leaders increased its power. As a result of these religious changes, minds and bodies were regarded as the province of the clergy. Madness became conceptualized in terms of good and evil.
Agricultural disasters, disease and civil wars led to the crumbling of societies and the mechanisms of social order. As explanation for all the suffering and misery could not be found in traditional discourse, another explanation was needed. The church found their answer in witchcraft and women. Many women were held responsible, through their supposed malefactions, for the ever-amounting death toll. The church, by means of sophisms, or false reasoning, had women branded as witches possessed by the devil.
The Malleus Maleficarum (the witches hammer) published in 1487 by clerics turned persecutors, was a legal document and a textbook on witchcraft for the elite. The Malleus Maleficarum described a persons sudden loss of reason was a symptom of demonic possession and how burning the person was the usual method of driving out the demon.
Thousands of men, women and children were persecuted, subjected to all forms of torture by order of the church before being hung or burnt at the stake. Historians found that there was a ratio of twenty to one women branded as witches. There seems to have been no escape for women as what ever her status, young or old, pre-menstrual, married or single, she could be accused of witchcraft and of being possessed by a demon.
The second half of the Seventeenth Century the validity of the religious idea of madness came into question. Witchcraft was reinterpreted by those in power. So called witches were now view upon as no more than hysterical teenagers, old women and civil nuisances. From then on there was a move to what has been described as, the 'Great confinement'.
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