Introduction: The Enigma of “Nervous Breakdown”

Janet Oppenheim

in “Shattered Nerves”

Published in print July 1991 | ISBN: 9780195057812
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199854394 | DOI:
Introduction: The Enigma of “Nervous Breakdown”

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)


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The experience of nervous breakdown achieved a significance in Victorian culture that went far beyond the substantial interest bestowed by the medical profession on so perplexing and elusive an illness. Nervous breakdown, a popular name for incapacitating depression, is not a specific disease that can be traced to a single cause. It is an abstract concept, encompassing many symptoms that vary from one patient to another, with invariably devastating effect. The characteristic sense of overwhelming hopelessness, emptiness, impotence, and uselessness, the incapacity to focus attention or reach decisions, the obsessive thoughts and fears, the diminished self-esteem, the extreme lethargy, and the inability to take interest or pleasure in any aspect of life make existence scarcely tolerable. This book attempts to ascertain what nervous breakdown meant to the Victorians, both to patients who experienced the baffling disorder and to medical practitioners who tried to treat it.

Keywords: somatic diseases; psychiatric disorder; Victorians; insanity; neurosis

Chapter.  7150 words. 

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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