Strangest Depression Treatments of All Time

Throughout history, people have struggled to understand mental illness, often treating those afflicted with conditions like depression and bipolar disorder with a mixture of fear, paranoia and superstition. As a result, people came up with theories about what cause mental illness that seem completely bizarre to us today.  And, just as strange as their ideas about what caused it, were their ideas about how to treat it.  Some of the strangest depression treatments of all time are listed below.


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A common belief during ancient times was that depression and other mental illnesses were caused by demonic possession.  Therefore, exorcisms were often performed in order to treat these conditions.  Some of the methods used in an attempt to drive out the demons included beatings, starvation and physical restraint.


Closely tied to the idea of demonic possession was trepanation.  Trepanation involved drilling a circular hole in the skull in order to open a portal for the demons trapped inside to exit.


A Greek physician named Hippocrates believed that depression was caused by an imbalance in four body fluids, called humors:  yellow bile, black bile, phlegm and blood.  Specifically, he believed that people with depression had too much black bile in their spleens.  He recommended bloodletting, baths, exercise and diet to correct this condition.

Lead Helmets

Noticing that people with depression often complained of feeling light headed, the ancient Greeks treated this complaint by having patients were a lead helmet.  The idea behind the treatment was to make the patient become more aware of his head.

Honey and Ginger

One theory the ancient Greeks used to explain depression among men was the idea that it was due to a loss of excess sperm during sleep.  Ancient Greek medical writer Philagrius is said to have prescribed a mixture of honey and ginger to remedy this condition.

More Sex

Oddly enough, other Greeks believed that depressed people weren't getting enough sex so they prescribed more time in the bedroom as a cure.

Hysteria Therapy

During the mid-1800s, one supposed cause of depression  at least in women  was believed to be hysteria.  This condition came about, it was theorized, when a women did not have children in a timely manner and her womb became discontented and angry about its childless state.  The unhappy uterus then began to travel around the body, blocking off normal processes like respiration.  Among the many odd treatments meant to drive the uterus back to its normal location was having the woman hold something with a bad smell under her nose.


In the early 20th century, hydrotherapy was a popular depression treatment.  This treatment was generally aimed at treating the symptoms of the illness.  For example, a lethargic patient might be subjected to stimulating sprays of water while a hyperactive one might soak in a warm, relaxing bath.  In some cases, however, the treatments seemed more punitive than therapeutic, with patients being restrained in baths for long periods of time or swathed in ice-cold towels.


A Portuguese doctor named Egas Moniz is credited with the development of this treatment.  He believed that problems with the nerve cells in the frontal lobe of the brain were responsible for mental illness and that severing the connections to this portion of the brain could cure the problem while still leaving the patient's other functions mostly intact.  At first, he received high praise for his discovery, even receiving a Nobel Prize in 1949.  As time went on, however, it became clear that this treatment was doing more harm than good and it soon fell out of favor.


"Depression Through the Ages:  Melancholoy Journey."  The Economist.  Published:  May 26, 2012.  The Economist Newspaper Limited.  Accessed:  November 30, 2014.

"Hysteria, Demons, and More: Depression Throughout History."  Health.  Published:  Unknown.  Health Media Ventures. Inc.  Accessed:  November 30, 2014.

Santoso, Alex.  "10 Mind-Boggling Psychiatric Treatments."  Neatorama.  Published:  June 12, 2007.  Accessed: November 30, 2014

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