Living in a time of health concerns brought on by a previously unknown viral threat brings me a heightened awareness of the historical mysteries recorded in these ledgers from the past. Advertisements give a clue to the extensive maladies that troubled mankind hundreds of years ago, many of which remain challenges even today. Liver ailments, gout, yellowed eyes, rashes, sleeplessness, and obesity are just a few things for which patented tonics and trusted treatments abound. Based on a sampling of papers such as Leslie’s Illustrated, Harper’s Weekly and any of the Wild West titles in the vast Rare & Early Newspapers collection, there is no doubt left that disease is a plague of the human condition.
Nothing, however, seems to baffle and burden society as a whole, and physicians in particular, as diseases of the mind. And The Gentleman’s Magazine  that I pulled out from October of 1808 describes the tension brought about by the ignorance in a field so relevant to our existence.
In particular, the writer addresses Mr. Urban on the unfairness of the societal and ecclesiastical condemnation of suicide, without considering the mitigating circumstances of mental illness.
In consequence of an unusual conflux of suicidal cases occurring nearly together a few months ago, the feelings of Humanity appeared to be much outraged; many calumnious and violent opinions, mingled with false censure, were inserted in our daily prints; the conduct of Juries was the subject of much unqualified condemnation; and al almost entire ignorance of the true state of the awful cases brought under their cognizance, laid the foundation of much unmerited reproach.
His pointed statement halfway through the piece provides an explanation for suicide with the following question and answer: “Why does it appear that Suicide is more general than formerly? The answer is at hand: Insanity is an increasing disease. A few of the bulky catalogue of human ailments have evidently decreased; unfortunately, this is not of the number.”
There’s so much more in this article that speaks to the same subject today. While I don’t know concerning the correlation between the two, I do applaud the perspective towards those who suffer in this way. It was a lofty goal then and is, in my humble opinion, still.
It is an absolutely demonstrable fact, that in nine cases out of twelve of self-destruction which our daily papers record, the previous situation of the subject is known, and the fatal crisis might be prevented were this knowledge acted upon with firmness, promptitude, and that just method which honour, humanity, and justice demand.