Scientia Professor of Psychiatry Gordon Parker is leading an international campaign to have the serious mood disorder melancholia recognised in its own right after it was dropped from the "bible" of mental illness diagnosis in the 1980s.

"It's an extremely serious illness," said Professor Parker, who is Executive Director of the Black Dog Institute. "It is completely unrelated to circumstances and sufferers simply cannot be cheered up."

The ancient disease was first described by Hippocrates in the 5th Century BC as a disease of "fears and despondencies". It is characterised by profound concentration impairment, extreme agitation and anxiety, and inappropriate feelings of guilt.

Despite melancholia's severity, its diagnosis fell out of favour with doctors, replaced by a general classification of major depression. Since the 1980s it has been absent from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

"At the moment there are probably more people who get the wrong treatment than actually get a treatment tailored to their type of depression," Professor Parker told the March/April edition of Uniken .

This is particularly dangerous for melancholic patients, because treating them with psychotherapy or counselling does not help and often leads to higher rates of suicide.

Professor Parker is leading an international push, involving 18 experts from five countries including the US, to have the next edition of the diagnostic manual changed.

"We believe that melancholia is a separate diagnosis, a separate condition that requires quite different treatment from most of the other depressive conditions that are able to be diagnosed," he said.

A paper providing evidence supporting the change will be published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Meanwhile, the Black Dog Institute is embarking on a study to determine the best treatments for melancholia and is calling for volunteers to take part in the trial. For more information about the trial go to the Black Dog Institute website.

Watch a UNSWTV interview with Professor Parker here. A podcast is also available from the health section in UNSW@iTunes.

Media contact: Steve Offner | 02 9385 8107 |