Feeling of melancholy

Melancholy - Definition, Meaning & Synonyms


Melancholy is beyond sad: as a noun or an adjective, it's a word for the gloomiest of spirits.

Being melancholy means that you're overcome in sorrow, wrapped up in sorrowful thoughts. The word started off as a noun for deep sadness, from a rather disgusting source. Back in medieval times, people thought that secretions of the body called "humors" determined their feelings, so a depressed person was thought to have too much of the humor known as melancholy — literally "black bile" secreted from the spleen. Fortunately, we no longer think we're ruled by our spleens, and that black bile has been replaced by another color of sorrow: the "blues."

Definitions of melancholy

  1. noun

    a constitutional tendency to be gloomy and depressed

  2. noun

    a feeling of thoughtful sadness

  3. noun

    a humor that was once believed to be secreted by the kidneys or spleen and to cause sadness and melancholy

    synonyms: black bile
  4. adjective

    characterized by or causing or expressing sadness

    “growing more melancholy every hour”

    “we acquainted him with the melancholy truth”

    synonyms: melancholic

    experiencing or showing sorrow or unhappiness

  5. adjective

    grave or even gloomy in character

    synonyms: somber, sombre
    cheerless, depressing, uncheerful

    causing sad feelings of gloom and inadequacy

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What Is Melancholic Depression?

Written by Susan Bernstein

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Casarella, MD on July 14, 2021

In this Article

  • Symptoms
  • Causes
  • Diagnosis
  • Treatment

Melancholic depression is a type of depression that’s also called melancholia. As many as 15%-30% of people with depression have this type.

Melancholic depression may have more severe symptoms than other types of depression. It may also be harder to treat than other types of depression. But you can learn to manage your symptoms with the help of a mental health professional.


Melancholic depression is more likely to cause physical symptoms, not just feeling blue or tearful. You may have no energy. You feel empty and unable to feel happiness. Your movements and thoughts may slow down.

The two main symptoms are:

  • You’ve lost the ability to enjoy activities in your life.
  • You can’t respond to pleasure in a positive way.

Melancholic depression is also characterized by:

  • Poor-quality sleep from waking up too early
  • Loss of appetite or weight loss
  • Trouble with concentration or memory
  • Feeling empty or unresponsive
  • Excessive guilt
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Thoughts of suicide

Psychomotor signs. If you have melancholic depression, your behaviors may change. Examples include:

  • Speech changes, or talking at different volumes or pausing when you speak
  • Eye movements like a fixed gaze or not making eye contact when you talk with people
  • Slowed movement of your head, limbs, or torso
  • Slouched posture
  • Touching your face or body often

Body aches. Some research shows that about 70% of people with melancholic depression can also have musculoskeletal pain.

Who’s at risk?

Melancholic depression symptoms usually happen later in life. This type of depression tends to run in families. People in your family tree may have had mood problems or even died by suicide.

Melancholic depression symptoms may be worse at times of the year when there is less sunlight, when the days are shorter, or when it’s cold outside.

People who have postpartum depression, or depression soon after giving birth, may also experience melancholic symptoms.


Changes in your brain and hormonal pathways can contribute to melancholic depression. The hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and adrenal glands may not be functioning correctly. This pathway is called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. These glands release chemicals that regulate stress and appetite.

With melancholic depression, you may have high levels of cortisol, a steroid hormone that’s made by your adrenal glands when you’re in stress. Your HPA axis regulates it. This affects many different functions in your body, including your appetite, metabolism, and memory.

You may also have changes in brain signals called neurons. These signals affect how you respond to your surroundings.


Your doctor or a mental health professional will diagnose your depression based on your signs and symptoms.

You must have one or both of the two main symptoms of melancholic depression: loss of the ability to enjoy life or to respond to pleasurable activities in life.

You must also have at least three of these symptoms:

  • Despair not due to grief or loss of a loved one
  • Loss of appetite or significant weight loss
  • Psychomotor changes
  • Depressed mood that’s worse in the morning than at night
  • Waking up at least 2 hours earlier than you wanted
  • Strong feelings of guilt


Melancholic depression treatments may include a combination of medications and therapy.

Antidepressants. Doctors often prescribe tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) for melancholic depression, although they may also use other antidepressants and medications. TCAs include these medications:

  • Amitriptyline (Elavil)
  • Amoxapine (Ascendin)
  • Desipramine (Norpramin)
  • Doxepin (Prudoxin, Silenor, Zonalon)
  • Imipramine (Tofranil)
  • Nortriptyline (Pamelor)
  • Protriptyline (Vivactil)
  • Trimipramine (Surmontil)

Electroconvulsive therapy. If your other treatments don’t work, your doctor may suggest electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) to relieve your symptoms. While you’re under general anesthesia, a technician sends electrical signals to your brain. This causes you to have brief seizures. ECT may change your brain chemical balance to relieve depression symptoms.

Psychotherapy. Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, isn’t always as helpful for treating melancholic depression as other types of depression. Even after treatment, your symptoms may come back again later, but it’s possible to manage your depression with the help of your doctor and mental health professionals.

What is melancholy?

Melancholia is one of the varieties of depression, which is accompanied by apathy, anhedonia and unwillingness to do anything. Often, people suffering from melancholia are extremely irritable, lead a reclusive lifestyle and avoid social contacts. Many people confuse melancholia with depression, but the symptoms of depression are deeper than the symptoms of melancholia.

Symptoms of melancholia

nine0002 A person suffering from melancholy sees the world around him in gray. In accordance with this vision, his entire worldview and relationships with other people are built. People around perceive such a person with caution, it may not be interesting to communicate with him, they try to bypass him. The state of melancholia is partially similar to depressive, but the symptoms are not so pronounced. With depression, a person sees everything in black, it seems to him that everything is bad, and that it is impossible to continue to exist and function. With melancholy, a person continues to live, communicate with others, work and even have fun, but all this happens through the prism of discontent and bad mood. It is important to distinguish melancholic from misanthropes. Misanthropes are usually antipathetic, unpleasant to other people and to themselves, but they like to live. They can enjoy watching movies, picking mushrooms, frying meat, drinking beer with friends, and hate everyone at the same time. At the same time, they are in a good mood. With melancholy, the mood decreases and a feeling of apathy appears. nine0003

"For centuries, the cause of melancholy was considered to be an excess of bile in the body - a fluid that is secreted by the liver and accumulates in the gallbladder."

Among the symptoms of melancholia, anhedonia, causeless melancholy and despondency are usually distinguished. A person suffering from melancholia is obsessed with negative thoughts and emotions. Usually such people have low self-esteem, they feel guilty about everything that happens in their lives and often engage in internal self-flagellation. The melancholic may feel sleepy and unwilling to get out of bed in the morning. Sometimes a person suffering from this disorder may lose their appetite. Such people may experience indifference to everything that happens around. With melancholy, a person may feel frustrated and fixate on problems that previously seemed insignificant to him. His actions may be inhibited, and attention is reduced, it is difficult for him to switch from one task to another and assimilate new information. There are people who suffer the consequences of their melancholy because of the unwillingness of those around them to communicate and be friends with him. nine0003

See also

Can depression be chronic?

Causes of melancholy

The term "melancholy" appeared in antiquity, it was proposed by the Greek physician Hippocrates. For more than two thousand years, depression has been called melancholy. Hippocrates gave two meanings of this word. First, he designated melancholy one of the four temperaments of a person in whose body black bile predominates. He believed that melancholic people "are afraid of the light and avoid people, they are full of all kinds of dangers, they complain of stomach pains, as if they were pricked with thousands of needles." Secondly, he considered melancholy a disease: “If the feeling of fear and cowardice continues for too long, then this indicates the onset of melancholy ... Fear and sadness, if they last long and are not caused by worldly reasons, come from black bile.” The fact that the cause of the disease can be sought in the human brain was guessed by Pythagoras and Alcmaeon even before Hippocrates, but it was Hippocrates who first wrote down that “you need to know that ... grief, sadness, discontent and complaints come from the brain ... From it we we become insane, we are seized with anxiety and fears either at night or with the onset of the day. nine0003

"Priests of Ancient India believed that despondency, like other mental illnesses, was caused by obsession. .."

For centuries, the cause of melancholy was thought to be an excess of bile in the body, a fluid secreted by the liver and stored in the gallbladder. However, this theory is no longer relevant today, and has been replaced by many other diverse assumptions. Now there are several theories explaining the development of melancholy. Some associate this disorder with inferiority complexes and the presence of phobias. Others - with the development of somatic diseases, especially chronic ones, as well as the inability of a person to realize his ambitions. There is an assumption that melancholy is associated with psychological problems: a state of frustration, difficulties in relations with parents or the loss of a loved one. Also possible causes of melancholy are social oppression, alcohol or drug addiction. Another possible reason is the lack of certain substances in the body. Many believe that the tendency to the state of melancholy is innate and is determined by the person's genetic predisposition to this disorder. However, at the moment, none of the above theories has been fully confirmed. nine0003

Melancholy occurs not only in adults, but also in adolescents. In adolescence, this condition is not accompanied by such vivid symptoms as in adults, since children have more ways to enjoy life. This condition can begin to develop at 11-12 years of age. Melancholy in adolescents is often associated with a negative atmosphere in the family.

Melancholy in art

Among the works of art there are books and films that describe heroes suffering from melancholy. Usually these are young characters with a constant depressed mood and a very sensitive mental organization. For example, there is the film “Melancholia” of the same name, which tells about the death of the Earth and the experiences of two sisters about this. Among the books, one can single out "Anatomy of Melancholy" by Robert Burton. In it, the author described everything that is known about this condition: causes, symptoms, types. Another book worth checking out is The Cure for Melancholy by Ray Bradbury. nine0003

“Melancholia occurs not only in adults, but also in adolescents. This condition can begin to develop at 11 or 12 years of age.”

An example of a melancholic person is Captain Zeleny from the cartoon “The Mystery of the Third Planet”. Every time he repeats the phrase: “this will not end well.” At the same time, he does not have depression, he lives normally and travels on a spaceship. However, he looks at the world through a negative prism of bad mood. nine0003

See also

In search of meaning. Existential Causes of Depression

Diagnosis and treatment of melancholia

Ancient people, as well as our contemporaries, were subject to various mental disorders, including depressive disorders. Even the priests of Ancient Egypt treated people who had a pathological state of melancholy. The priests of ancient India believed that despondency, like other mental illnesses, was caused by possession, so they were engaged in the expulsion of evil spirits from people suffering from this condition. nine0003

In today's world, standard psychiatric methods are used to diagnose and treat melancholia. Diagnosis of this disorder usually involves a clinical interview conducted by a psychiatrist or psychotherapist. A psychiatrist can prescribe drugs that affect individual symptoms of melancholia, but drug therapy for this disorder is not always effective. The main work is carried out by a psychotherapist, who helps the patient understand what is happening in his inner world. Modern psychiatry does not have sufficiently effective methods that help in the treatment of depression. The same can be said about the treatment of melancholia. Depressive spectrum disorders and conditions associated with low mood are always more difficult to treat than others. nine0003

Melancholy can pass by itself. There are people who independently, purposefully, without any outside help, set themselves up in a positive way and struggle with this disorder. Usually such people have perseverance, serious introspection, as well as good support from loved ones. They are ready to accept criticism, imaginative communication and motivate themselves. Most often, active sports, interesting work and high-quality communication with people help get rid of melancholy.

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    How to get rid of melancholy • Arzamas

    Romantics loved melancholy: it elevates a person above the crowd and makes him a creator. But before romanticism, this condition was considered a disease. In 1621, the English prelate Robert Burton published a 900-page Anatomy of Melancholy; Arzamas publishes selected practical tips

    Melancholy. Drawing by Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione. After 1660 nine0073 © Philadelphia Museum of Art

    What is melancholy

    Melancholia is a disease associated with the appearance of black bile in the human body, causing clouding of the mind and, as a result, affecting the heart and other organs. It occurs more often in men, but in women it is more violent. Temperament does not affect the risk of disease: only fools and stoics are not subject to melancholy.


    Melancholia causes a variety of symptoms of varying severity, but the most common of these are fear and sadness. nine0003


    According to the generally accepted classification, there are three main types of melancholia: head (disturbances occur in the brain), bodily (derived from the structure of the whole body) and hypochondria (sources of which are the intestines, spleen, liver and mesentery).

    Causes of melancholia and its treatment

    Methods of treatment for melancholia depend on what causes it. Usually causes are divided into two types: supernatural and natural. nine0003

    1. Supernatural causes are cases in which the disease came from God (or at His will) or from the devil (he can act indirectly, through sorcerers and magicians). Then ordinary medicines do not help - only spiritual means, such as repentance and cleansing from sins, save.

    2. Natural causes are divided into universal (the disease is caused by the position of the planets and stars), which are beyond our control, and private. Private causes, in turn, are divided into congenital and acquired. nine0003

    2.1. Congenital causes include old age, temperament and hereditary diseases. It is impossible to eliminate these causes.

    In addition, children conceived and born under certain circumstances often suffer from melancholy:

    - children born of too old men;

    - children conceived on a full stomach or in a drunken state;

    - children whose mothers indulged in melancholy during pregnancy; nine0003

    - children conceived as a result of intercourse with an unclean (that is, menstruating) woman.

    Naturally, such situations are recommended to be avoided.

    2.2. Acquired causes are classified into inevitable and non-avoidable.

    2.2.1. Among the unavoidable causes are six things that every melancholy person must watch out for, since it is completely impossible to do without them.

    nine0017 Robert Burton's last lifetime edition of Anatomy of Melancholy. 1638
    © Wikimedia Commons Food

    It is extremely important to watch the amount of food consumed: both gluttony and excessive restriction in food are detrimental to the body and brain.

    In addition, it is necessary to follow a certain diet, since it is food that forms the quality of moisture in the human body, including the brain.

    nine0002 Meat

    In general, indigestible meat adversely affects the human condition.

    - Beef is suitable only for healthy and active people of a strong physique; leading a calm lifestyle, lean and prone to melancholy people, it is contraindicated.

    Pork is not suitable for those who live easily, and for those who have any disorders, mental or bodily.

    - Goat meat can be eaten without consequences, only if it is goat meat. nine0003

    - Venison and horse meat in general are not recommended, unless very well cooked, and then rarely.

    - Hare meat, which gives rise to terrible dreams, is not recommended, although the meat of a young rabbit does not cause any complaints.

    Dairy products

    Dairy products are only good for children and very healthy people, as they generally aggravate melancholy, although there are some exceptions:

    nine0002 - serum is extremely useful for everyone;

    - some recommend donkey milk;

    - cheeses are suitable for food, but only fresh and non-hard varieties.


    All wading birds and birds arriving from northern countries should be excluded. So, you can not eat geese, swans, storks, cranes, coots, dives, water chickens, teals, ducks and other pecking.


    nine0002 Opinions differ about fish, but in general it is not very approved. The most harmful is acne.


    - Raw plants do not bring any benefit in themselves, so it is recommended to eat them cooked in meat broth.

    - Cabbage negatively affects the brain.

    - Root vegetables are mainly harmful to the body, especially onions and garlic.

    nine0002 - Fruits are also not recommended to be eaten, especially raw.

    - Legumes are not useful, a person can eat them only if he is not able to refuse them.

    - Spices (pepper, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, dates, honey, sugar, salt, etc.) cause head melancholy, so they should also not be added to food, especially if there is a predisposition to the disease.


    nine0002 Bread is useful if made from higher grades of wheat.


    - Wine and wine drinks can be harmful, sometimes even a single use of them can lead to melancholy. However, usually a glass of wine is an excellent medicine for melancholics. True, we can only talk about the moderate use of such drinks.

    - Beer should not be too fresh, but not too old, so as not to harm the body. nine0003


    Stagnant waters are extremely harmful to the body, therefore they are not suitable for either external or internal human use, except for washing and, in extreme cases, watering livestock.

    Method of preparation

    - Any complex, aromatic dishes cause indigestion and, as a result, melancholy.

    - Pungent and sour, too sweet or fatty, as well as vinegar, oil, sour juice and mustard, also do not benefit the body. nine0003

    It must be borne in mind that any food ceases to be harmful where it is used to - or at least its harm is reduced. The same thing happens with food that brings pleasure. In addition, the consequences of taking melancholic food can be completely eliminated in forced conditions - in poverty or in emergency situations.

    Melancholy. Engraving by Albrecht Dürer. 1514 © Wikimedia Commons nine0018 Colon cleansing


    Cases are known where the inability to empty the bowels directly led to melancholic depression, but as soon as the medicine was taken, the person became better, so that the remedy for constipation can also be a cure for melancholy.

    Unhealthy sexual life

    - With excessive sexual abstinence, the accumulated semen turns into black bile and hits the head. nine0003

    - Sexual uncontrollability cools and withers the body. In this case, moisturizers can help: a case is known when a newlywed was cured in this way, who married in the hot season and after a short time became melancholic and even insane.

    Other causes of intestinal health include pinched hemorrhoids, missed periods in women, and nosebleeds.

    In all these cases, artificial methods of cleansing the body are recommended - baths, bloodletting, etc. It is important to remember that they can produce a twofold effect, therefore they are beneficial for a person in moderation. nine0003 Air

    Hot and dry air, thick, polluted air, air in thunderstorms and bad weather (with strong wind), cold and dry, and also night air are harmful to a person. Thus, melancholics are advised to leave the house only in good weather and not to open the windows at night. Exercise and idleness

    Under no circumstances should one over-exercise or exercise immediately after a meal, as the juices of barely digested food spread throughout the body and destroy the vital forces. nine0003

    Idleness is also not useful, since an idle body is overgrown with all sorts of ailments, and an idle mind immediately tends to melancholy.

    Loneliness can also lead to melancholy, although one cannot deny a certain benefit from it - in conjunction with reflection and contemplation. Sleep and awakening

    Nothing harms the melancholic more than frequent awakenings, as they wither the body and inflame the brain. nine0003

    At the same time, it is contraindicated to indulge in sleep after meals and during the day, when the human body is not ready to rest. Also, sleep is harmful if accompanied by tears and sighs. Mental anxieties

    Passions can be the cause of melancholy, because they drain the body and corrode the soul.

    Sorrow takes first place among the passions, being the mother and daughter of melancholy.

    nine0002 - Fear is a constant companion of sadness.

    - Envy sprouts in the form of discord, hatred, ill will, rivalry.

    Anger brings out the vital forces, and frequent and violent attacks of anger lead not only to melancholy, but to madness.

    — Dissatisfaction, misfortunes and all kinds of earthly worries deprive us of sleep, impede digestion, wither the body and absorb its substance.

    The passion of desire is accompanied by ambition. nine0003

    Greed also deprives one of sleep and rest. A greedy person does not know life for himself, because he is not able to be content and enjoy what he has acquired with satisfaction.

    - The love of gambling and immoderate pleasures is fraught with complete ruin. In Italy, guardians were appointed over people obsessed with these passions, who monitored the expenses of the wards. The love of wine and women should also be mentioned here.

    Portrait of Robert Burton. Painting by Gilbert Jackson. 1636 year © Christ Church, University of Oxford

    - The love of knowledge exhausts the body, darkens the soul, weakens strength and courage. Scholars lead a sedentary lifestyle, are deprived of entertainment and often experience dissatisfaction, in particular, from contempt for them on the part of the ignorant.

    - Selfishness is the strongest destroyer of our souls, leading to melancholy and dementia. If in some it is manifested by love for praise and glory, then in others it is manifested by contempt for oneself and for everything around. nine0003

    The only antidote here can be our ability to restrain ourselves, to be meek, long-suffering and unforgiving.

    2.2.2. Not inevitable - these are optional causes of melancholy, that is, circumstances that are best avoided altogether. Bad Nurse

    Milk contains both useful and unhealthy properties that are inherited. Because of the latter, the child risks melancholy from birth. nine0003 Bad education

    With the excessive severity of the educator, fear is born in the children, and with excessive indulgence - licentiousness. Both of these lead students astray. Fear of seeing or hearing

    Fears can make such a strong impression on the soul that they lead to the deepest melancholy. nine0018 Sneer, slander and ridicule

    Melancholics are especially susceptible to rough treatment, because it corrodes the soul. A person should not insult his neighbors, rejoice in other people's troubles and blaspheme the dead in order to preserve both his own peace and the peace of his neighbors. Loss of freedom, addiction or prison

    All these circumstances make a person need such basic things as the sun, air, rest and so on. nine0003 Poverty and want

    Poverty can give a person nothing but contempt, hunger, thirst, monotonous work, coldness and ignorance. The poor man has limited freedom of action, he does not know any pleasure, and this breaks his heart. Death of friends and other losses

    These causes are worth mentioning among innumerable other accidental causes of melancholy. If a person cries and groans from a simple separation from friends or loved ones, then what can we say about the loss forever! Bitter loss plunges hearts into deep sadness and leads to melancholy.

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