Medicine for the Mind
How should we understand mental illness? The question is fundamental and puzzling. An example brings this out: In the winter of 1826-27, the young John Stuart Mill fell into a state of depression, and on several occasions wondered whether he had any obligation to live on. His experiences probably meet the criteria for a diagnosis of Major Depressive Episode. But Mill's account in his autobiography is not univocal. He is inclined to talk of the experience as a cloud - something (a disease?) visited upon him from outside. Famously, he believed reading Wordsworth lifted this cloud from him for ever - Wordsworth's poems were, says Mill, 'a medicine for my state of mind'. At the same time, Mill says it was a crisis in his 'mental life': it was a time at which his most fundamental beliefs were challenged, and found wanting - it was an intellectual not a medical crisis. In this seminar I am to bring out what light my research in Durham has thrown on such cases.
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