When Nostalgia Was a Disease

Asylums for the psychotic emerged in the 1800s when it was deemed immoral to simply throw insane people into jails, and among the most serious afflictions in these wards was nostalgia. Today, nostalgia is viewed simply as a longing for the good old days, for the way things used to be. However, during the Civil War and both World Wars, many military men suffered from homesickness so extreme that it made them hysterical and delusional. Army doctors took it quite seriously, especially in cases of isolated soldiers, who had traveled into foreign, hostile lands. Nostalgia in that era manifested itself as something we might understand today as PTSD. Soldiers grew so miserable and apathetic that they stopped eating and showed signs of clinical depression, and because of lack of hygiene and medicine, they contracted diseases that killed them. It’s estimated that during the Civil War the Union army suffered over 5,000 cases, and 58 of them were fatal. Today, nostalgia is considered a fondness for the past that reminds us of experiences and brings past or dead individuals to life. Experiencing a mild longing for the past may be like escaping to home or better times, especially during darker periods. Centuries later, we’re merely creatures who long for the things we no longer have, and that’s a far cry from a mental disorder.