What becomes of the broken-hearted? Not particularly good things if you lived in the Regency era. I’ve been doing some research lately on late 18c and 19c medical treatments for various things for a current and upcoming novel and I found the most eye popping treatment for depression in a 19c publication, Annals of Insanity.
The first case mentioned is of a 58 year old gentleman, a rough sort by the description and a quiet man. He apparently had a ‘sudden transition in his circumstances, which, from being easy and comfortable, became exceedingly precarious and embarrassed’ which I read as he either went broke and lost all his money, or he was constipated, or impotent. (With 19c texts it’s hard to get a straight answer.) He said he was ruined. Despite the truth of his condition, they called this man insane.
Some descriptions of his symptoms required a dictionary for non-medical me — cephalalgia (headache) — some were easier, noise in his ears, mood swings, high colored urine, sleeplessness. They also said he had an uncommon hatred for certain persons. Now, if the gentleman blamed someone for his loss of status, this is completely understandable. Previous to coming to this doctor’s care, he was treated with Drastic purges, antimonial vomits, ammoniac draughts, segapenum, steel, and both kinds of hellebore (purgative and toxic). Also blisters, cupping, cold bathing. No wonder he wasn’t in a great mood after all that.
However, the treatments noted as given, and responsible for his restoration were wide ranging:
- Exclusion from conversation, from friends and from family
- Sequestered in a darkened room
- Diet changed to light and cooling foods
- Diluted drink (which I assume means his alcohol was watered down)
- Head was shaved repeatedly
- Feet washing (which they claim made his sleep better)
- Purges of kali tartarisatum (potash, saltwort?) in barley water
- Opium – repeatedly
The doctor mentioned that the opium dose was ‘increased until his nights became calm and composed, and his days passed without that perturbation of spirits and derangement of idea, that for some time had been too apparently visible.’ Basically the poor bugger was put on a diet, made to throw up a lot, and drugged. The length of this treatment was five months.
Honestly, I love the regency era, and I’ve found great material for my upcoming novel, but I am so glad I’m alive now and that better treatments prevail for depression.