Embracing Melancholy

And from these melancholy dispositions, no man living is free, no Stoic, none so wise, none so happy, none so patient, so generous, so godly, so divine, that can vindicate himself; so well composed, but more or less, some time or other, he feels the smart of it. Melancholy, in this sense, is the character of mortality.
–from Robert Burton’s Renaissance classic, The Anatomy of Melancholy; Burton was born on this day in 1577

The passage above is included early on in The Loss of Sadness, a study by Allan V. Horwitz and Jerome C. Wakefield of “How Psychiatry Transformed Normal Sorrow into Depressive Disorder.” The same two authors, both of them academics specializing in the treatment of mental illness, have more recently expanded their thesis in All We Have to Fear: Psychiatry’s Transformation of Natural Anxieties into Mental Disorders. Gary Greenberg’s The Book of Woe slams the American Psychiatry Association’s most recent edition of their industry bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) for including so many dubious afflictions (Greenberg’s vote for most dubious goes to “Internet Use Disorder”). A similar alarm bell is rung in Allen Frances’s Saving Normal: An Insider’s Revolt Against Out-of-Control Psychiatric Diagnosis, DSM-5, Big Pharma, and the Medicalization of Ordinary Life. Frances’s book discredits “the rampant diagnostic inflation that has “expanded the boundary of psychiatry far beyond its competence,” turned America “into a nation of pill poppers,” and made psychiatric meds “the star revenue producers for the drug companies.”


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.