Horwitz: Depression is probably one of the very few mental illnesses that’s been recognized for thousands of years, so it’s certainly not something that’s a new condition. From the ancient Greek philosophers, through the renaissance period, through the early psychiatrists, even through Sigmund Freud and the DSM I and the DSM II – it had always been a contextualized illness so that the people who become sad or even intensely sad in contexts where we would expect people to be sad – the loss of intimates, diagnoses of a serious physical condition, serious economic difficulties- these sorts of things were always clearly distinguished from the mental illness of depression, which either arises with no context or persists longer than the original context in which it arose or features extremely severe symptoms- vegetative symptoms, hallucinations and delusions, these sorts of things.
Interviewer: So you’re saying that there’s been this historical legacy of seeing depression as a pathology only when it doesn’t fit the context, when it doesn’t fit the situation.
Horwitz: Precisely, the symptoms are identical but one is contextually appropriate and the other is without cause or without reason.
Link to a podcast interview with sociologist Allan Horwitz, author of a book called The Loss of Sadness.