Women and Mental Health

By Elizabeth Howell; Marjorie Bayes | Go to book overview

15
Madness in Women

HELEN B. LEWIS


Depression

To fall ill of depression is more often women's lot than men's. Depression in everyday life is, as everyone knows, a temporary experience that can range from mild dejection to profound despair. Depression becomes an illness when the person cannot throw off a state of deep sadness that paralyzes the self. Even then, the symptoms of depression are understandable to the lay person. As one expert puts it: "Affective disorders ... strike the student of psychiatry for the facility with which their clinical concepts are grasped even by the beginner" (Arieti 1974, p. 449).

The only other major mental illness that claims more women than men is hysteria. "Hysteria" is a more recondite label than "depression," but its symptoms are equally mundane. In one kind, called "conversion hysteria," the person is afflicted with physical symptoms with no discernible organic base. The other kind of hysteria involves massive anxiety, sometimes to the point of "fugue" or amnesia. In other instances the anxiety takes a specific form and the person is phobic about some particular thing: for example, snakes, heights, airplane travel, and so forth. Such cases are given the name "anxiety hysteria" or "phobia." In other cases a massive anxiety occurs "for no reason," and the person who has once experienced it dreads a recurrence.

In this section we shall be concerned mainly with women's proneness to depression. Discussion of women's proneness to hysteria is be

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