Quote: Curing Depression, Maybe

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The 19th-century historian JFC Hecker reports an example from 19th-century Abyssinia, or what is now Ethiopia. An individual, usually a woman, would fall into a kind of wasting illness, until her relatives agreed to “hire, for a certain sum of money, a band of trumpeters, drummers, and fifers, and buy a quantity of liquor; then all the young men and women of the place assemble at the patient’s house,” where they dance and generally party for days, invariably effecting a cure. Similarly, in 20th-century Somalia, a married woman afflicted by what we would call depression would call for a female shaman, who might diagnose possession by a “sar” spirit. Musicians would be hired, other women summoned, and the sufferer cured through a long bout of ecstatic dancing with the all-female group.

We cannot be absolutely sure in any of these cases – from 17th-century England to 20th-century Somalia – that festivities and danced rituals actually cured the disease we know as depression. But there are reasons to think that they might have.

How we learned to stop having fun, an edited extract from Ehrenreich, Barbara (Coming July 2007) Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy. Granta.

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Robert Heiny
Robert W. Heiny, Ph.D. is a retired professor, social scientist, and business partner with previous academic appointments as a public school classroom teacher, senior faculty, or senior research member, and administrator. Appointments included at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Peabody College and the Kennedy Center now of Vanderbilt University; and Brandeis University. Dr. Heiny also served as Director of the Montana Center on Disabilities. His peer reviewed contributions to education include publication in [I]The Encyclopedia of Education [/I](1971), and in professional journals and conferences. He served s an expert reviewer of proposals to USOE, and on a team that wrote plans for 12 state-wide and multistate special education and preschools programs. He currently writes user guides for educators and learners as well as columns for [I]TuxReports[/I].com.