Is nostalgia a mental illness?

People often experience feelings of nostalgia at some point in their life, wherein they fondly remember something that happened in the past. Interestingly, such nostalgic feelings can originate from a simple act of smelling a flower or visiting an old spot and thinking about an old schoolmate or a family holiday. However, at times, they may appear just as a passing thought. But, whatever be the source of these past reminiscences, nostalgia can have both positive and negative impact on an individual struck by the sense of such bittersweet feelings.

Prior to the twentieth century, nostalgia was actually condemned as a mental disorder, especially among the soldiers in war. Interestingly, the concept of nostalgia was first termed by a medical student Johannes Hofer in his dissertation published in 1688 wherein he defined the condition as a “neurological disease of essentially demonic cause” and talked about psychological and physiological characteristics of nostalgia.

Historical aspect of nostalgia

In the dissertation, Hofer described nostalgia as an affliction of those who had left their home, and thus, spent most of their time thinking about the past days when they were with their families. However, not all memories were pleasant, as some individuals were crippled by the sense of longing that these memories brought with them. In defining the condition further, he categorized nostalgia as a mental illness, referring to the cases where people developed depression due to their chronic nostalgia.

Taking cues from Hofer’s research, nostalgia was widely accepted as a mental disorder in the eighteenth century. During the era, the condition was viewed more in context with the soldiers since the conditions of the military conditions were terrible during those days. With deplorable living conditions such as cramped quarters, scanty food, indescribable sanitary conditions, coupled with severe and rigid discipline, pushed the soldiers into profound despair, depression and anxiety.

Considering it to be a mental disorder, soldiers with nostalgia were often ill-treated and terminated from their services. For instance, the early 1700s witnessed Russian soldiers to be buried alive if suspected to be suffering from the “nostalgia virus”. Also, during the United States’ Civil War, soldiers growing nostalgic were publicly shamed and ridiculed. The taboo on nostalgia ended in the twentieth century when it was termed as “immigrant psychosis”.

Pros and cons of feeling nostalgic

Medically, nostalgia is defined as a psychopathological condition occurring to patients who are uprooted from their base, have fragmented social contacts and are isolated from their present surroundings. The minds of nostalgic people usually dwell in the past, which often disconnects them with the present set up. Studies have shown that nostalgia is primarily an emotional disorder, in which the mind is busy wandering in the past happenings and memories, thereby creating an emotional imbalance.

However, today, nostalgia is no more considered a mental condition, although it is broadly categorized as the disorder of imagination. On the contrary, nostalgia has been found to exhibit certain healing powers. In fact, the good memories from the past and the longing to live in the same way as the good old days often inspire people and help them lead a better life. However, in patients suffering from any kind of addiction, memories of their past battered childhood or flashbacks of traumatic events can further push them into addiction. Actually, nostalgia can cause a domino effect of memories, which can further lead to obsession and cravings for drugs.

Road to recovery

Frequent nostalgia can create an emotional imbalance, resulting in an impatient and chaotic mind. In extreme situations, people need to seek therapeutic programs and therapies to help them overcome the  frequent bouts of nostalgic thoughts. If you or your loved one is battling some form of mental disorder, get connected to the 24/7 Mental Health Helpline to learn about the best mental health programs in the U.S. Call us at our 24/7 helpline number 855-653-8178 or chat online to know more about the finest mental health rehabilitation centers near you.