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Melancholy Throughout History and The Awakening Feelings of worthlessness, insomnia, melancholy, and suicidal thought are just some of the many feelings that someone struggling with depression may experience. According to the NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health), approximately 350 million people suffer from depression worldwide (Depression: Facts, Statistics & You). Over the years the knowledge, acceptance, and awareness of depression has grown significantly. Looking back to times in the 1800s or even earlier where little was known about depression we have drastically improved in a myriad of ways, medically and socially. This is shown in Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening through the protagonist Edna Pontellier. The healthcare given to those struggling with depression has improved, through the tests, and medication given. Socially over the years society has become more aware and accepting of those with depression than before. Depression is defined as ” a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest…it affects how you feel, think, and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems…” (Depression).  Depression usually develops through the teen years and all through the 30’s as well. While the exact triggers of depression are unknown some elements that may contribute to the disorder include brain chemistry- which is usually caused by the imbalance of chemicals and neurotransmitters in the brain and inherited traits. Treatment of depression has also been linked to the treatment of anxiety. Many psychotherapy methods have proven to be effective. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy is where the negative, unhappy, unmotivated thoughts are removed and replaced by more positive, reassuring thoughts. Another effective treatment method is medication. The use of medication helps alleviate many symptoms of the disorder. The most popular medications involve the use of serotonin, a neurotransmitter. Over the years the knowledge and treatment of depression has significantly improved. Depression dates back to the second millennium B.C. In this time period, the disorder was known as melancholia and was thought to be caused by the possession of demons. The demons in the body were treated through various procedures by a priest at the time. Jumping ahead to around 460 B.C Hippocrates, a Greek physician, and historic figure in the development of medicine proposed a different theory. He proposed that mental disorders were caused by humours and an unstable balance of them. Along with his first theory, he also believed depression was caused by a black bile that would build up in the spleen. To treat depression based off of his theories he would remove blood from the body, and prescribe diets and exercise. In 1621, an English scholar from Oxford published his most famous book: The Anatomy of Melancholy. The book was focused on the causes of depression being both physiological and social causes. He proposed the main causes were “poverty, fear, and social isolation”. Throughout the centuries, the knowledge of depression had significantly increased. By the early 1800s, it was perceived that depression was an inherited disorder, caused by an inability to control temperament. During this time a new treatment method was discovered and used. This treatment being water immersion. Water immersion is the process of continually holding a person underwater without drowning them in hopes of rearranging their brain back to normal. In the 1800s a lobectomy was also a very popular treatment method. In this procedure, they would remove pieces or even whole lobes from the brain. The removal of the lobe would lead to side effects causing personality changes (Nemade, Rashmi.). In Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening, the protagonist Edna Pontellier is portrayed as having a mental illness and portraying a number of these symptoms. “Exhaustion was pressing upon her and overpowering her” (The Awakening, chapter 35). This shows the feelings of melancholy and suicidal thoughts that many people with depression end up facing. In chapter 16 it states “For some reason, she felt depressed, almost unhappy” (The Awakening, chapter 16). These are just many allusions to the prediction that Edna was struggling with depression. Throughout the novel, you learn about Dr. Mandlet’s relationship with Edna. Though it was unclear why he was helping Edna, it was evident he knew her more than anyone else ever could and would. He knew that she longed to be free, and knew she couldn’t ever escape that here. Whether she longed to be free of her relations, or depression that is unknown. By the end of the novel, it alludes that Edna had committed suicide by drowning herself in the ocean. It is suggested that Edna had killed herself, to escape the imprisonment she faced in her life. It is also suggested that this action of her drowning herself may also allude to water immersion, which was a popular treatment for depression during the time period of this novel. From the earliest times to Edna’s time in the 1800s, it was never socially acceptable to be open about your mental health. Up until the 1800s if you suffered from a mental disorder you were thought to be depressed and were looked upon as an outcast. In Edna’s case, she would have been perceived as crazy, and mental. Today, having a mental disorder is no longer frowned upon and is okay to be open and need to talk about it. Throughout the years, the improvement of the knowledge, treatment, and awareness of depression has greatly improved. From the earliest times where it was believed demons cause depression, to the 1800s where temperament was the believed cause, all the way to present time where the believed causes vary from inheritance to abnormalities in the neurotransmitters in the brain. The symptoms of depression are expressed throughout Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening through Edna Pontellier. Throughout history, the treatment of depression has drastically changed. It developed from a healthy lifestyle to water immersion, lobectomies all the way to the use of serotonin today. Despite the changes throughout the years, the one common factor throughout all is that everyday people suffer from the many symptoms that the disorder has to offer. 

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