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American Melancholy

Constructions of Depression in the Twentieth Century

Laura D. Hirshbein

Publication Year: 2009

In American Melancholy, Laura D. Hirshbein traces the growth of depression as an object of medical study and as a consumer commodity and illustrates how and why depression came to be such a huge medical, social, and cultural phenomenon. This is the first book to address gender issues in the construction of depression, explores key questions of how its diagnosis was developed, how it has been used, and how we should question its application in American society.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Series: Critical Issues in Health and Medicine

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pp. ix-x

This project was supported by a publication grant from the National Library of Medicine and a grant from the Rachel Upjohn Clinical Scholars Program at the University of Michigan. ...

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pp. 1-8

If you read about depression anywhere today—medical journal, popular magazine, National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) pamphlet, or pharmaceutical company drug promotional literature—you will find three main pieces of information either explicitly stated or strongly implied: depression is a disease (like any other physical disease), it is extraordinarily prevalent in ...

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Chapter 1. Prelude to Depression

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pp. 9-26

Current researchers in the area of depression often emphasize the long history of the disease and cite representations from the past from figures such as Hippocrates, Richard Burton, and Shakespeare to illustrate that this has been an ancient and important problem for humankind.1 Yet these past images of depression did not lead directly to our modern diagnosis of depression. If ...

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Chapter 2. The Expanding Diagnosis of Depression

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pp. 27-56

In 1974, Jonathan Cole, chair of Temple University’s Department of Psychiatry, reflected on recent treatment breakthroughs and research in depression in a special issue in the American Journal of Psychiatry. Cole explained that “from the psychiatrist’s viewpoint only, depression is an exceedingly satisfactory disease. It is comforting, in this day of existential doubt and psychosocial ...

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Chapter 3. American Moods and the Consumer Solution

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pp. 57-76

In 1963, Business Week reported that “a new kind of pep pill is going through clinical tests at selected clinics and mental hospitals all around the country. But it didn’t start out as a pep pill—or, to be less colloquial, a psychic energizer. Abbott Laboratories of Chicago developed it originally as a drug to lower blood pressure.” The author enthusiastically projected that this pill would have a ...

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Chapter 4. Gender, Depression, Diagnosis, and Power

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pp. 77-106

One of the most commonly reported “facts” about depression is that it is at least twice as common in women as it is in men. Modern researchers have speculated on the possible causes for this difference. While some have raised questions about women’s social and economic vulnerability that might lead them to become more depressed, others have looked for explanations within ...

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Chapter 5. Feelings and Relationships

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pp. 107-126

In late July 1972, Senator Thomas Eagleton withdrew his candidacy for vice president on George McGovern’s Democratic ticket only days after his selection because of controversy over his revelation that he had been treated for “nervous exhaustion” in the 1960s.1 Some of Eagleton’s colleagues in Washington, D.C., reported that this was not news to them, and that it was ...

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Epilogue: Real Men, Real Depression

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pp. 127-134

In 2003, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) launched a “Real Men. Real Depression.” campaign to spread the word to men, who until now have not been a focus of depression research or education.1 As the brochure that accompanied the campaign explained, men’s depression can look different from women’s: a man “may be grumpy or irritable, or have lost his sense of...


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pp. 135-190


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pp. 191-194

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About the Author

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p. 195-195

Laura Hirshbein completed her medical school and residency training at the University of Michigan, and completed her PhD in the history of medicine from the Johns Hopkins University Institute of the History of Medicine. She is currently a psychiatrist and historian at the University of Michigan.

E-ISBN-13: 9780813551142
E-ISBN-10: 0813551145
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813545844
Print-ISBN-10: 0813545846

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Critical Issues in Health and Medicine