Melancholy: Definition, Symptoms & How to Get Rid of It
Melancholy is such a mental state when a person feels powerless, sad, and apathetic, and has no desire to do anything. The sad mood is often accompanied by the sense of futility, suicidal thoughts, and sometimes phantasies about imaginary “great deeds”.
What causes melancholy?
It’s impossible to detect the exact reason for melancholy. It can be caused by a disruption in the brain function or the functioning of any other internal organ. But there is one thing that doesn’t cause any doubts: melancholy develops on the background of severe emotional distress when the psyche is oppressed for a long time. This usually ends in a depressive disorder.
Psychiatric science has defined such a term as “melancholic depression”. The patient affected by this mental disorder is depressed because of their personal problems to such an extent that they often have suicidal thoughts. According to a recent research, about 15% of capable women and 10% of capable men are suffering from melancholic depression. The gap isn’t large but it indicates that the female psyche is more sensitive. Misfortunes make women more upset for a longer time.
The causes of melancholy can be:
- Inborn melancholy. It’s related to congenital malformations and birth defects when a future mother has been leading an unhealthy lifestyle. Even being an embryo, the little one can sense its mother’s emotional state, and if the woman doesn’t want to give birth, the baby can be hurt by her feelings. When an expectant mother is too old she can also give birth to a person prone to melancholy.
- When just one or both of the parents are melancholic, the possibility of their baby being a melancholic too is high.
- Various depressive disorders. Here we should pay special attention to melancholic depression: it’s accompanied by a sad, dark mood, the thoughts of the person’s own worthlessness or suicidal ideation.
- Sudden mood swings. Such a melancholy usually indicates types I and II of the bipolar disorder. What’s the difference between them? The type II doesn’t cause a manic state with its danger of suicide attempts.
- Mental disorders, hereditary or acquired. For example, schizophrenia can be accompanied by depressive thoughts, social isolation, and melancholy.
- Long severe disease. It wears a person down physically and mentally. The patient faces depressive thoughts, becomes melancholic.
- Old age. With age, our body goes through irreversible processes. The person isn’t so physically strong anymore, their mind not as sharp as before. Then various illnesses come. All this affects the mental state. The person often experiences melancholy.
- Fear. Such patients are always afraid of something due to certain mental features. For example, the fear of falling in love or getting married, of something new. Such an issue can easily cause melancholy.
- Inferiority complex. The person doesn’t believe in themselves, thinks themselves inferior, worthless, and lets others decide for them. Eventually, the patient slips into depression. They understand their weakness and suffer from this understanding, and then melancholy strikes.
- Socio-ethical issues. They are related to the worldview problems. For example, the disbelief in social progress, thinking that people are not capable of decency, that everyone wants only to take advantage of others, make one skeptical. Such viewpoints are leading to melancholy and depression.
- Pessimism. The thoughts of death, of transience and unreliability of everything in the world. There is only a silent tomb ahead. Such “black” mood is a severe mental disorder – melancholic depression.
- Unfulfilled desire. For instance, unrequited love. It triggers melancholy which sometimes leads to psychosis that needs therapy.
- Deep emotional experiences. If most of them are negative, for example, jealousness, envy, grief, and anger, they cause a melancholic state.
- Alcohol and drugs. Alcohol and substance abuse literally kill the spirit, our thoughts become dark and pessimistic. The affected patients often face melancholy and sometimes even commit suicide.
- Gambling. This fatal passion often results in a huge debt. Such people are constantly upset and can think only about how to get the necessary sum of money. Against this background pessimism and melancholy develop.
It’s important to know that melancholy can have natural, biological as well as social causes. But they all lie in the person’s individual psychological traits.
The most common symptoms of melancholy
How does melancholy reveal itself in the life of an individual? The signs and symptoms of melancholy comply with the age group the affected person belongs to. There are specific symptoms of melancholy in kids, adults, and old people. Let’s consider them in detail.
The symptoms of melancholy in children
It’s not so hard to notice the symptoms of melancholy in children – just take a closer look. A melancholic kid is very different from their peers. Such a child is shy and uncertain, prone to crying for no apparent reason.
These kids are often clinging to their mothers because they are afraid of other people. The adaptation in society is very difficult for them. Parents and school teachers have to pay more attention to such children and try to find common ground with them.
On the other hand, when such a kid gets used to the new environment, they will be very calm and obedient. Young melancholics are conscientious and responsible, they tend to finish what they’ve started. Such kids are often creative, and if they develop their talents, they become outstanding in their chosen fields of activity: writing, painting, music.
But this personality type has its shortcomings. Melancholic children rarely take the initiative, are withdrawn, so it’s very hard for them to make new friends. But when such a kid gets attached to someone, they can sacrifice their interests for this friendship. And if their attitude isn’t reciprocated, the child feels disappointed. That’s especially true for teenagers.
You need to know that, in order not to cause depressive disorders in melancholic children, you shouldn’t blame them for their reclusive behavior and sensitivity. Praise your child for their positive traits, and then they’ll grow up healthy, not prone to fits of melancholy.
The symptoms of melancholy in adults
Statistically, the symptoms of melancholy in women manifest at the age of 40-55 years. Men show these symptoms, on average, 10 years later. The outward signs of melancholy are similar, the only difference between men and women being the fact that the latter are more sensitive to age-related changes.
The obvious melancholy symptoms can be dry skin, dilated pupils, sudden weight loss, bad digestion. Other signs of melancholy are:
- Hypothymia. The patient is constantly in a bad mood, doesn’t see anything good in their life, and is fixed on negative feelings. The individual can’t get in the mood for positive communication. It’s often related to the feeling of emptiness. Against this background, suicide thoughts begin.
- Apathy and sluggishness. Characterized by the absence of energy. It’s outwardly expressed in total indifference to everything, even to pleasures. For example, the person refuses to go to the cinema or restaurant. The most important thing for them right now is introspection. If the affected person agrees to do something, they are making a rushed job of it. Sometimes it’s taking too much effort even to eat – all the physiological needs are reduced.
- The sense of guilt. A complicated, psychologically inexplicable feeling. The individual blames themselves for everything, even for being born. They are not at fault but still feel overwhelming guilt.
- Fake problems. The person can make a problem out of anything. For example, it becomes a “problem” to buy groceries because you need to get up and put on clothes, and the store is “too far away”.
- Difficulties making a decision. For instance, it’s necessary to solve some problem, but the person takes too much time to think it all over before doing anything.
- Sleepiness, fatigue. Even a good night’s sleep doesn’t help – the person still wants to have a nap after a few hours upon waking.
- Difficulties concentrating. Your mind is in disarray, and it’s hard to think clearly.
We should mention that if the person has been in a deep melancholic state for long and life holds no interest for them, then they’ve developed melancholic depression. Such a patient is in need of medical attention.
The symptoms of melancholy in elderly people
The melancholy symptoms in elderly people concern, first of all, their health issues. After 60, all the bodily functions slow down. This affects emotional well-being, causes sadness. If the person can’t get these emotions under control, they can result in melancholy and depression.
Elderly people often feel lonely. Their children have grown up and got their own life to live. In most cases, the elderly keep to a daily routine and sudden changes in this schedule cause stress that can lead to melancholy and depression.
If you want to help elderly people fight melancholy, it’s necessary to show them warmth and concern.
How to deal with melancholy?
You don’t always have to get professional help to cope with melancholy. Most people are able to shake off the blues and depressive thoughts. Just follow these simple tips.
Self-help for melancholics
There are a few ways to deal with melancholy on your own. Some of them are more suitable for women, some of them – for men. But, of course, there is an exception to every rule, so you can choose any means of self-help you like.
Simple tips that will help you fight melancholy:
- Try to go out more. Social situations help to get rid of melancholy far more effectively than being a recluse. Sports, watching a movie with your friends or shopping are great ways to unwind a bit.
- Positive thinking. Switch your attention to something funny: it can be a book, some sitcom on TV, Internet memes. Sometimes bringing your things in order cheers you up.
- Don’t forget about sensual pleasures. Sex, delicious food, massage distract you from melancholy. But be careful: don’t get drunk or take drugs. Substance abuse will only make the situation worse.
- Another great means of dealing with melancholy is helping others. Changing someone’s life to the better makes you feel useful and think that your life is worth living.
- If you’re a religious person, visiting the church can be of help. Some people feel calmer after a prayer. There’s nothing wrong in finding support regardless of where you find it: in talking to a psychiatrist or after a confession in church.
Remember that it’s possible for you to get rid of melancholy, but you must really want it!
Professional help in dealing with melancholy
If you still can’t run away from melancholy using self-help methods, go to a therapist. There are a lot of various psychological techniques for dealing with neurosis, depression, and melancholy nowadays. For example, the well-known cognitive behavioral therapy. Its working method is helping the patient to break the chain of negative analogies and to work out a new positive way of thinking.
One of the more practical ways of applying the method is the imaginative approach. For instance, the patient is imagining a car crash: the windshield of the vehicle has broken down in pieces, people inside survived by some miracle. Now they need to have their car repaired. The therapist makes the patient understand what the vision means: the negative thoughts and the feeling of melancholy have crashed – there is no return to that destructive way of thinking. Instead of paying attention to what’s been lost, the patient should tune to a positive wave and “repair” their psyche.
The patient is not likely to get rid of melancholy without sincerity and trust between them and their therapist.
The clinical treatment for melancholy is similar to that for any other severe form of depression. The signed-in patient goes through a set of medical procedures which help to cope with the obvious symptoms of the disorder. For this purpose doctors prescribe different psychoactive drugs. It can be neuroleptics, antidepressants, and mood stabilizers. The latter are especially effective during the melancholic depression.
After the patient is signed out from a clinic, they need maintenance treatment in order to prevent a relapse which is likely to happen in the case of long-term melancholy.
You should know that only severe melancholy when the affected person can’t fight their suicidal thoughts requires inpatient treatment.
Melancholy is a dark shadow over your usually bright world. A person suffering from this disorder can’t notice positive moments in their life – they are fixed on their depressive thoughts and dark mood. If they are not completely trapped in their melancholy, they can use self-help and break free from this darkness, see a brand-new day. If they can’t manage alone, they should ask for professional help. But if you’ve noticed disturbing signs in someone close to you, it’s better not to wait until they slip into a severe disorder, such as chronic melancholy or melancholic depression. Remember: chronic illnesses are always harder to treat, and that’s true for mental health issues as well. Take care of yourself and your loved ones!
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By Maria Shevtsova
Born in Belarus, 1985, a pedagogue and family psychologist. Taking action in support groups organization and social adaptation of the people with mental disorders. Since 2015 is a chief editor of the undepress.net project, selecting the best and up-to-date material for those, who want to get their life back or help someone dear, who got into mental trap.
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