ACQUIRED DISEASE FROM MENTAL AGENCIES.
Amongst the induced or acquired conditions of disease, or diseases incident to human kind, are those which spring from mental influences, and which are due to something done through the mind of the affected person himself, or by some one or some thing outside himself. By virtue of his higher mental organiza tion, man differs from the inferior animals in relation to the classes of disease which are now under our consideration. The difference is one which is not altogether in his favor, and which is very dis tinctive in respect to him. He shares with the animal world generally in regard to the influence of the animal appetites on his physical nature. He shares with many of the higher classes of animals in regard to the influences of fear, rage, jealousy, and those faculties of mind which we call the passions. But lie is subjected to other influences which are exclusively his own, and which belong to his peculiar moral, intellectual, and habit-forming characteristics.
Man, consequently, derives, through mental agencies, a of diseases, physical and mental, which cannot strictly be said to belong at all to the lower forms of animal life. More than this, in respect to some of the very influences which affect them equally with him, under certain circumstances, lie has what they have not, a special gift of foreknowledge, which causes him to be affected by the anticipation of what is to happen, or what may happen, and which anticipation may be to him as severe as the actual occurrence of what is expected.
We have then, in dealing with man, to consider a number of induced symptoms or diseases which, brought about purely by mental influences, are also brought about by such subtle influences that it is very difficult to trace the effects up to their cause. The difficulty is rendered greater by the circumstance that physical conditions of an unfavorable kind often combine with the mental to aggravate the result, or sometimes precede and lay, as it were, the foundations for the evils which are lighted up by mental shock or mental disturbance. In other words, the person affected with some physical disability, following it may be upon some pre ceding disease or diseased condition which seems to have been recovered from, is disposed to recurrence of the physical malady under the action of depressing or exhausting strains which tell upon the body through the mind.
I pointed out this fact many years ago in my work entitled, " Discourses on Practical Physic." I showed there that the class of cases where nervous shock or strain excites latent or intensified actual symptoms, includes many varieties of disease, such as .pso riasis and other chronic eruptions on the skin, cancer, epilepsy, and insanity. In such cases I argued there is some preceding condition, hereditary or acquired, which by causing primary injury to the nervous structures leads to a chronic exhaustion that is easily intensified by the slightest mental shock. Thus cancer frequently shows the first signs of its presence upon the occur rence of some great mental anxiety. Thus eruptions on the skin will follow from exposure to excessive mental exertion. Thus insanity, which probably is never the result of simple mental overstrain, but is marked by mental inactivity as its forerunner, becomes pronounced when some mental shock or strain calls it forth.
Within these last months Dr. Crothers, who has the superin tendence of a home for inebriates in the United States, has illus trated this same point with great effect in respect to what he calls the influence of psychical traumatism, or, in other words, mental wound, on persons who have become total abstainers from alco holic drinks. Dr. Crothers explains that such persons may be perfectly safe under the protection of total abstinence so long as they are free from the danger of mental depression or blow; but when they come under such source of depression, so intense is its effect upon them, that, losing all moral control, they fall back upon alcoholic stimulants, and, plunging into inebriety, become its hopeless victims, incurable by any measure short of forcible and entire deprivation from alcohol.
In brief, all states of impaired nervous system, whether they be hereditary in their nature or acquired by the accident of physical disease, assist materially in the development of further physical disease from mental shock or strain. It may be that in every case of mental shock there is some such predisposing ten dency, inasmuch as no living being exists, up to the present time, who can be declared free of all physical defect, latent or active.
It is remarkable how very little the question of the origin of physical diseases from mental shock or influence has been studied. Even physicians have let this question largely stand aside, as if content with the contemplation of the grosser and more material evidences of the origins of disease. To consider how a person should be injured by taking some deleterious substance into his system through his breath, his stomach, his skin, his blood, were a truly scientific and rational pursuit; but to consider what shall enter by the senses or windows of the mind, and so invisibly entering be potent for evil or for good, that were too refined and indefinite a pursuit. To observe that a person fainted from loss of blood was naturally to inpiro into the reasons of the phenom enon, and, step by step, to trace it out in all its mechanical and physical meanings. To observe, however, that a person fainted on receiving some disastrous news was not suggestive of inquiry, because the phenomenon was due to something which seemed not to admit of inquiry, but to define that which was inexplicable and inevitable. At the same time, the characters of the resultant phenomena were seen to be much the same, and, as it were, to have some common origin.
I propose in the next few chapters included in the present part of this work to treat briefly on the connection of mental agency with the production of physical disease, and I undertake the task under the solemn conviction that the need for the study was never so decided as at the present hour, because the need for it increases with the intellectual development of the race. An uncultivated all but animal human race, possessing the appetites as its leading characteristic, and having few other qualities higher than emotions resting on the appetites, may be so near to the ani mal world that little more than the physical agencies which affect it call for observation. In a higher development and civilization the positions of mind and body are modified. Impressions telling upon the body through the mind become more potent, rapid, and persistent. The mind begins to rule. Upon this the body, now more subservient to the mind, grows upmore susceptible to men tal influences, and the diseases developed in it partaking of its susceptibilities are brought out inure decidedly through its im pressionability.
I am quite sure that within the range of my own personal observation as an investigator of disease, that is to say, within the range of thirty-five years, I have seen a marked difference in what I may call the individuality of disease, as a result of pro gressive intellectual life. I am sure that what we used to call the strong physical or sthenic forms of disease, are less in number and less intense in character than they were some years ago. I am equally sure that modified, if not new, forms of physical disease, developed through the mind, are much more common than they were, and that in many respects disease generally is assuming a new phase, typical of the national life in its present stage of transition.
In making this statement on the natural history of disease I am offering nothing that ought to be considered alarming in its nature. As a whole, disease, in its grosser forms, is being re duced, mortality is lessening, and life is becoming of longer dura tion. These are cheering facts, and are facts indicating that the perfection of health and life is compatible, as it is perhaps only attainable, by the perfection of civilization. I therefore allude to the change with hope as the password.
In addition, I have no idea of any evil arising from mental work when that is carried on with evenness, order, and general ization. The brain is the most enduring of organs. It is the organ that admits of most change; it is the organ that requires most change; it is the organ that is the most perfect repository of animal force, and is the most ready dispenser of it; it is the organ that can rest in jaded parts and work in parts that are not jaded at one and the same time. So brain work, which means mental work, may be hard work without being dangerous, may be conducive to health of life and length of days; and, by devel opment of the nervous organisms, during generation upon gen eration, may give to mankind an increase in health and the possession of a longer natural life; may indeed, by continuous evolution, lead to an unthought of birth of human existence.
This for the possible future. For the moment I must ask attention to physical disease from mental shock or strain; to disease springing immediately if not absolutely from something which takes place through the agency of the mind. We may follow up this study in three directions.
1. In relation to those influences which we call moral, which are usually imitative, and which are contrastable by imitation.
2. In relation to those influences which spring out of the passions or emotions, and which are either the quick responses or reflexes of some external action passing through the mind, instantly, from without; or, which, coming originally from with out, have been laid up or stored in the mental recesses.
3. In relation to those influences which depend on repeti tions of mental directions, tendencies, or feelings, and which by repetition become second natures, habits, or habitudes.