Anxiety-Panic History
c. 1600In the 16th century, the term hysteria is applied to anxiety and related disorders. (31)
c. 1600if one was something of a hypochondriac - and many spa-users were more than just something in this direction - and stood in need of cures for a number of different complaints, this could entail a progress approaching the dimensions of a nation-wide Odyssey. The many-sided sufferer would find himself journeying to such varied places as Rotherham for its Eye Well, to Buxton where St Anne's Well would reputedly cure his rheumatism and arthritis, to Malvern's Holy Well to stave off skin-disorders and so on until the whole countryside was covered. (47)
1603Edward Jorden's book on hysteria - the first on the subject to be written in English. A Briefe Discourse of a Disease Called the Suffocation of the Mother, 1603. ... Edward Jorden (1569 - 1632) was the first English physician who viewed the women who were accused of witchcraft as unfortunate persons suffering from some medical condition. Asserting that there were natural causes for their afflictions, Jorden often served as expert witness at trials of women accused of witchery. His arguments did not always persuade the judges, however. One Elizabeth Jackson, accused of causing the fits suffered by May Glover, was convicted in spite of Jorden's defense. Jorden (1603) called the disorder manifested in Jackson (and in the majority of supposed witches) by two terms: hysterical, and strangulatus uteri, or "suffocation of the mother" (mother here being an old-fashioned term for the uterus), since a choking in the throat was a common accompaniment. Jorden was impressed by the panoply and ever-shifting quality of symptoms associated with this condition: now shortness of breath, now palpitations, now paralysis, and so on. He was also aware that the hysterical "fits" might occur with varying regularity: yearly, monthly, or even weekly. (36)
1618In a revolutionary yet all but unknown treatise on medicine written in 1618, Charles LePois (1563 - 1633) stated that the condition of hysteria had nothing to do with the uterus and could occur in men as well as women. This latter possibility was still stoutly denied by Freud's teachers when he asserted the same, some 250 years after LePois. So much had etymology and entrenched beliefs impeded new thought concerning this syndrome! (36)
c. 1660Competing theories about hysteria circulated in the later half of the century. London physician Thomas Sydenham (1624 - 1689) used the term in a nonspecific sense to signify any mental disorder short of what we would call outright psychosis - "frank alienation," in the language of the day (H. & M., 1963, p. 221). ... Sydenham noted a similarity between the hypochondriacal symptoms in men and the hysterical symptoms in women, although he apparently did not go so far as had LePois, who contended that men could be "hysterics" also. (36)
1668A contrasting view of hysteria emerged from the work of Thomas Willis (1621 - 1675), discoverer of the eponymous "circle of Willis" (the anastomotic arterial circuit at the base of the brain) and originator of the term neurology. He also used the term psyche-ology to designate the study of the "corporeal soul" (H. & M., 1963). Willis was one of the founding fathers of biological psychiatry, placing even hysteria and hypochondriasis among the disorders of the nerves (in contradistinction to the blood vessels, as postulated by Hippocrates). Willis saw hysteria as a type of "fit" or convulsion (Pathologia Cerebri [Pathology of the Brain], 1668) specifically as a disorder less severe than grand mal epilepsy (in modern terms) but still convulsive in nature. As Willis described it: "These are the features - rumbling sounds, retching, distention of the abdomen, uneven or impaired breathing, a suffocation in the throat, dizziness, crossing or rotation of the eyes, tearfulness, saying strange things, sometimes losing the voice or becoming motionless, a weak pulse and a cadaverous look, and meantime convulsive movements of the face and joints or, often enough, of the whole body. This can happen to women of all ages and classes - including prepubertal girls, and even men." Willis rejected the notion of the "wandering womb" as a cause of hysteria, though his theories were still heavily dependent on Hippocratic humoural formulations. (36)
1678[An apparent mixture of depression and anxiety known as nostalgia] was first described by military physicians among Swiss soldiers in 1678. It was also diagnosed among German troops of the same period by German doctors who called the condition "Heimweh" (homesickness). (30)
1686Celia Fiennes was perhaps the greatest frequenter of English watering-places that the seventeenth century produced. ... She was a chronic hypochondriac and traveled the length and breadth of the country in search of water cures for her many complaints - a test of endurance which would seem to prove that they were hardly as debilitating as she liked to believe. Celia made two extensive tours, one in 1686 and the other some eleven years later. ... Her record of her journeys at least proves that, by the end of the seventeenth century, there were many other nascent spas besides the two dominating, fashionable centres of Tunbridge and Bath. Some were destined to flourish in the following century and later, some to fade from even local popularity. But, at least, by the end of the seventeenth century England was already a nation of fervent water-curers. (47)
1692Salem witchcraft trials in New England. ... Superstition and credulity led to North America's last trials for witchcraft in 1692, in the little village of Salem, Massachusetts. The witchcraft scare began when a Negro slave girl named Tituba told some stories of voodoo (the traditional West African spirit religion) to some friends who had nightmares as a result. A doctor who was called in to examine the girls said they must be bewitched. Trials of Tituba and others were held before Judge Samuel Sewall. Cotton Mather, a colonial preacher who was convinced that witchcraft existed, led the prosecution. The witchcraft scare lasted about a year, during which time 19 people, mostly women, were found guilty and executed - one man by the barbarous medieval custom of being pressed to death by heavy weights. About 150 other people were jailed. Judge Sewall later confessed that he thought his judgments had been wrong. (44)
1733the Scottish physician George Cheyne (1671 - 1743), who was one of the first to write about his own nervous disorder. His book, The English Malady (1733), explored the melancholy, anxiety, and biliousness that afflicted him for many years. Cheyne asserted that these troubles affected mostly the highly intelligent (like the author, presumably!), since "fools, weak or stupid Persons... are seldom troubled with Vapours or Lowness of Spirits." But his book was not the confessional tome we might expect from someone in our own era divulging the details of his or her own neurosis. There are no personal revelations here: instead, mostly complaints about his digestion, of a sort that suggests his condition was related to his gallbladder! (36)
1733Perhaps the prototypical society nerve doctor was George Cheyne, who in his 1733 book on the "English malady" and in other works launched the whole notion of "nervous illness" as a malady affecting the nerves themselves. ... Cheyne penned his notions about nervous diseases as not representing madness but physical disorders of the nerves themselves ("a bodily distemper... as the smallpox or a fever"). And the suffering these nerves could inflict! "Of all the miseries that afflict human life and relate principally to the body, in this valley of tears I think nervous disorders in their extreme and last degrees are the most deplorable and beyond all comparison the worst." (31)
1736Although the Witchcraft Acts in England were repealed in 1736, this did not stop many persons from continuing to fear and despise the mentally ill. Sometimes deluded inmates hurled accusations at themselves of being devils or witches, inadvertently sabotaging the process of changing the perception of ordinary people to see them in a more sympathetic light. (36)
c. 1751From the standpoint of nosology, Robert Whytt (1714 - 1766) worked with the milder mental conditions (in effect, the neuroses), categorizing them into the hysteric, the hypochondriacal, and those characterized by "nervous exhaustion" (similar to the neurasthenia described by Beard in the 1870s). Whytt explained these conditions, and the varying degrees that certain groups experienced them, on the basis of differing motilities and subtleties of the nerves. ... Whytt assumed that women's nerves were more motile than men's - and children's were even more vulnerable. (36)
1755Many society nerve doctors followed in Cheyne's footsteps. In 1755, Charles Perry wrote an account of the "hysteric passion." Was it a psychiatric illness? Not at all, rather a "nervous disorder" caused by "errors and defects in our accretions and sucretions." In Perry's view, "Many thousands (I believe I may say millions) of women are daily, more or less, under its scourge and dominion." (31)
1763Pierre Pomme popularized in France "vapours," a disorder already well known to the English. ... These nervous vapors, arising as they did from the uterus, could "derange all functions of the brain." (31)
1773A young French demimondaine, unable to sleep for anxiety about her emotional life, wrote to her lover in 1773, "Suffering has softened my soul and I yield to it. At five in the morning I took two grains of opium. I obtained from it some calm that was better even than sleep." (31)
1775To help offset [the demonic notions of mental illness], a minister, Hugh Farmer (1714 - 1787), wrote a well-researched book - An Essay on the Demoniacs of the New Testament (1775) - debunking the old superstitions and stating plainly that "possessed" persons were invariably "mad [i.e., psychotic], melancholy, or epileptic." He reframed the Biblical description of demons "entering" a person as being symbolic of the person becoming afflicted with a mental illness. (36)
c. 1780Simon Tissot (1728 - 1797) ... saw hysteria as the baleful result of sexual abstinence in persons not temperamentally suited to that mode of life. (36)
c. 1780Medical hypnosis had begun at the end of the 18th century with Franz Anton Mesmer and his French followers. (31)
1787In his major work, Leidenschaften als Heilmittel [The Passions as Curative Agents] (1787), Friedrich Scheidemantel outlined over a dozen main passions, including fear, fright, sorrow, love, hate, joy, hope, rage, and envy. He considered the negative emotions (hate, envy, jealousy, and arrogance) to be unusable for therapy (Harms, 1967); in fact, they could induce all manner of harmful effects in the mind and body. The curative emotions were joy and its close relative, laughter, which "revitalized the vascular system" (p. 52). He enumerated many illnesses (diarrhea, colic, women's disorders, lung ailments) as susceptible to cure through the instrumentality of joy. At all events, his awareness of the profound effects of strong emotions on the body, whether for ill or good, establishes him as a pioneer, if not the "father," of psychosomatic medicine. (36)
Anxiety-Panic History