“No creature so miserable as man,” said an ancient writer; “so generally molested, in miseries of body, in miseries of mind, miseries of heart; in miseries asleep, in miseries awake, in miseries where-so-ever he turns.” “All his days are sorrow and his travels, griefs; his heart also taketh not rest in the night.” “All that is in it is sorrow and vexation of spirit”.
This wail of despair, borne to us from the earliest pages of the world’s history, is re-echoed to-day in the cry of every melancholiac. This cry has swept through the centuries. However much brightness and sunshine, joy and gladness, there may be in the world, there are always thousands who, living continually in the shadows, respond only to the minor keys of the diapason of the universe. Many are born pessimists. They behold everything through darkened glasses. Mentally astigmatic, they are incapable of obtaining a correct view of any subject. Never upon the heights of intense joy, any reverse of fortune or severe bodily ailment plunges them into the abyss of despair, from which no exit is discernible except through the portals of suicide.
Year by year this multitude swells; day by day these grovellers in this labyrinth of mental darkness rush, in ever-increasing throngs, to our sanitariums and hospitals for the insane. The question, therefore, naturally arises, What is the cause of this increase of mental sufferers? Are there any conditions prevalent in these latter days which may be considered responsible for this result? Are there any agencies at work particularly devitalizing to the nervous system?.
One agent, certainly unknown until within the past three years, can be assigned to this category, viz., la grippe”.
What particular atmospheric or telluric condition has made possible our annual visitation by this previously unknown scourge medical science has thus far failed to demonstrate. Whatever may prove to be the correct theory of its origin and continuance, the brood of human ills which have followed in its train has been innumerable, its injury to the race incalculable. A veritable “Pandora’s casket,” with each recurrence it has produced an ever-increasing dread and apprehension. Peculiarly debilitating and prostrating in its effects upon al the vital organs, its disastrous influence upon the nervous system has been particularly marked and striking.
A glance at the recent reports of any hospital for the insane will demonstrate that not the least of its ravages have been those which it has made upon the brains of its victims. Without exception, in each of the reports for the past two years of twelve prominent institutions which we have consulted we find this dread visitor figuring as an influential causative agency, in numbers of cases which have diseases directly traceable to its influence. The intense prostration and debility always accompanying its invasion, by profoundly6 lowering the general nervous system, must in many instances pave the way for the injurious results produced by other influences to which the mental symptoms may be directly traced.
Frequently we see that influenza, even when its course may have been of comparatively short duration, sows the seeds which, months afterwards, bring forth evil fruits. When we consider that the underlying foundation of melancholia, whatever may be the immediate exciting cause, is always a weakened and impoverished state of the system, it is almost impossible to estimate the influence which this disease must exert in its production. Surely one cause of the recent increase of melancholia can positively be asserted to be “la grippe”.
Another the advent and great popularity of Antifebrine, Phenacetine, and numerous other marked heart depressants, we seldom heard of the now trite cause of death, heart-failure. No reflecting mind can fail to believe that the effect of reducing the temperature several degrees, and the heart’s pulsations twenty to forty beats, in a few hours must be injurious. Nor is the use of these drugs confined to the prescriptions made, in suitable cases, by competent, legally qualified physicians. Scores of individuals, accustomed to find relief from severe neuralgia in antifebrine, frequently take it upon their own responsibility.
So common has this custom become that hundreds daily receive it over the counters of soda-water fountains, in the drug stores of every large city. How much damage is done by the self assumed medical role of multitudes of drug clerks, incapable of acting in this capacity, no one can estimate. That much injury has been done by these drugs, is apparent from the change of attitude which the Allopathic fraternity6 now holds regarding them. The Old-School journals are now constantly filled with warnings against their injudicious and indiscriminate use.
While it is impossible, directly, to trace to their employment all the injurious effects which they have produced, it is positive that they have done much harm, and, without doubt, their depressant effect has been the indirect cause of plunging many into the depths of melancholia.
The universal prescribing of enormous doses of Quinine, by Allopathic physicians, and its extensive use as a household remedy, not requiring the advice of a physician, can also be credited with much injury in this direction. Knowing, as we do, from personal observation, that Quinine is capable of causing insanity in many persons especially susceptible to its effects, we cannot doubt that many cases of melancholia are directly traceable to its influence.
For proof of the alarming increase in the use of this drug since the advent of influenza, we need but consider the amount now sold by druggists in comparison with former times. That Quinine is far from being the harmless drug it is supposed by the general public to be, any one acquainted with its physiological action can testify. When one reflects upon its depressing and disastrous effects upon the brain, when given in large doses, it need cause no surprise that its continuous use should in many cases give rise to melancholia. Crating, as it often has, temporary hallucinations of sight and hearing, and marked delusions, the step is but slight to the establishment of a condition of positive insanity.
For a corroboration of this statement we need but refer you to the history presented by us, and published in vol. xxv. of the Transactions of the Homoeopathic Medical Society of the State of New York. In this case we had an opportunity of tracing the effects of an Allopath’s drugging with Quinine until the patient, finally crazed by its action upon his sensitive brain, jumped out of the second story window of his house. How many more remaining under Allopathic treatment, with their disease shrouded under another name for the protection of the physician in charge, have suffered in a like manner must remain unwritten history.
The ever-increasing worry of modern life and business troubles is another powerful agent to which we must look for an explanation of the present lamentable condition of affairs.
When we consider the gigantic enterprises conceived and executed by the men of modern times, and the tremendous financial burdens continually borne by them, it is not to be wondered at that hundreds fall beneath its weight. Nor is the result of these disasters limited to the individuals themselves. Wives and children and the entire families are involved, and, in too many instances, their mental strength not proving sufficient to stem the tide of misfortune, they are swept into the vortex of despair.
Another factor, each year more and more potent in its injurious effects, is the excessive forcing process of our present school system. Weak and strong alike, regardless of individual idiosyncrasy, are subjected to the same pressure. Healthy, natural brain growth and development is impossible. Hours that should be given to sleep or out-door recreation must be devoted to the preparation of lessons for the succeeding day until, when sleep is sought, the brain is unable to case its excessive activity, and all night long fractions and decimals, straits and rivers, verbs and adjectives are mingled in the distressed dreams of the over-wearied sleeper.
Is it any wonder that such a preparation for life’s work and duties proves so often a preparation for living death? With brain force weakened or turned into false channels, how many,,as a result of this mistaken system, pass years of hopeless misery in the unfathomable darkness of incurable melancholia. To prove that this is no fancy sketch, we need but glance at the case-book of any nervous-disease specialist, or the records of any hospital for the insane. Nor are the numbers of future victims from this cause likely to diminish until a radical change shall be made in the present system of education by our boards of education and our educational institutions in general.
Another pernicious evil apparently upon the increase is the frequent production of miscarriages by women of every class. The name American has become synonymous with greed for grain. The accumulation and transmission of colossal fortunes is regarded as the acme of human ambition. With no law of primogeniture in force, this is impossible if wealth, although great, must be divided among many children. This desire, together with the demands of fashionable society so entirely conflicting with the duties of mother-hood, render child-bearing among the rich unpopular and intolerable.
With the poor, scanty comforts, divided among increasing numbers, become positive want and give rise to the same desire. With such ideas permeating all classes of society, it is no wonder that our newspapers are continually filled with cases of unfortunates who have lost their lives through trusting themselves to professional abortionists. The cases published, however, are but the smallest fraction of those who live through similar operations. Yet, while escaping immediate death, multitudes have their constitutions undermined, and sow the seed of future mental disease.
The general shock to the nervous system is often too great to be rallied from, and after years of suffering they at last sink into hopeless melancholia. Nature’s laws are inexorable, and this is but one of numerous instances where the offender finds that the punishment is severe and unavoidable.
Another cause, less universally effective, is the increasing prevalence of cigarette smoking among children. Of the evil effects of this habit upon all classes, there can be no doubt, but when it is formed and indulged in by children ranging from toddlers of four to youths of fifteen, the injury must be tenfold increased. The poison of nicotine is especially powerful in its effects upon the developing nervous system, as is proven by the pinched faces and dwarfed forms of the numerous street arabs of all large cities, who almost from babyhood are devotes to this habit.
That the depression of this poison plunges many into insanity is proven by hospital reports; that the numbers here recorded, however, do not anywhere near represent all the causes so produced is also without doubt, as in many the disease is assigned to some other direct cause, while in reality the first seeds might be traced to this habit. The laws enacted for the lessening of this evil are most needed, and every physician should do his utmost to enforce them, else the mental wrecks from this cause must yearly increase.
Disappointed ambition, the dissipations of fashionable life, with too little sleep, too little exercise, and too constant confinement within doors, irregularity in eating and drinking; in fact, an almost incalculable number of agencies might be named which, while, slight in their individual effect, in the aggregate produce a most powerful depressing influence upon the general system, rendering it hypersensitive to any direct exciting cause, and tending to overthrow the reason, dry up the sparking fountains of joy and hope, and substitute the waters of bitterness and despair.
How is this increasing tide of evil influence to be stemmed? Can nothing be done to shield the masses from these pernicious influences? Must multitudes of melancholiacs continue to daily swarm into our hospitals and sanitariums or seek rest in suicide? Are we simply to stand still and hopelessly look on? Certainly, the general medical profession need not be powerless in the face of these appalling facts. A successful crusade could be waged if the profession were once aroused to its duty. The ignorance and thoughtlessness of the people is one great cause of so many offences against nature’s laws.
Our mission must be educational as well as curative. Let the community, through the high school and college, be taught regarding hygiene and the general laws of health. Impress upon the masses, wealthy and poor, educated and ignorant alike, that nature is merciless in her punishment of transgressors of her laws. Teach men that attacks of hopelessness and despair which so often cloud the mental horizon are but the reflex of disordered natural functions and nature’s warnings against violations of her laws. Teach men how to live when in health, and each year melancholia will become less and less common, and soon suicide will be unknown.