Ancient Mesopotamian texts said the human affliction, then known as “melancholia,” was caused by demons. Early Babylonian, Chinese, and Egyptian civilizations also viewed depression as a form of demonic possession and “treated” sufferers with exorcism techniques such as beatings, shackles, and starvation.
The Greek physician Hippocrates believed that melancholy was both a biological and psychological disease, caused by too much black bile in the spleen. His preferred treatment method? Blood-letting.
Then, in the early 20th century, lobotomies, the surgical destruction of the brain’s frontal portion, gained popularity as a “calming” treatment, as did electroconvulsive therapy – electrically induced seizures – which is still used in psychiatry.
Nowadays, an estimated 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression and it is generally accepted that the illness frequently has multiple causes, including biological, psychological and social. Given our improved understanding of genetics, researchers have been working to identify the genetic sequences linked to depression.
Researchers from the Institute of Cytology and Genetics of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences have reportedly identified the gene sequence responsible for the development of depression in people of European descent.
Using material provided by the Erasmus Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, Russian scientists studied genetic variations from a pool of 2,000 European people to identify the gene. According to the institute’s press office, scientists in the Netherlands have confirmed the finding in an independent sample. Researchers consider this study an important step toward understanding the nature of this mental illness, and, therefore, improving treatment for this millennia-old ailment.