NERVOUS PROSTRATION (NEURASTHENIA) AND NERVOUSNESS.— By nervousness is meant an exhausted, weak, and irritable condition of the nervous system. This irritability is the distinguishing characteristic by which the weakness of the nerves is manifested in neurasthenia. One thinks of nervousness more as a quality of temperament, whereas in neuras thenia the symptoms present a more or less complete, clear, and characteristic picture of the disease, which in the last half of the nineteenth century became so widely spread that it was called the " disease of the century." The causes of nervous troubles lie largely in the mode of living. The populations of civilised lands have increased enormously during the last century. The individual's struggle for existence has become harder and harder, and calls for a continually increasing nerve-strain. At the same time, one cannot escape disappointed hopes and accidents of fate. Sickness, sudden pecuniary losses, misfortune, sorrow, and overstrain in mental work accompany them. An unhygienic mode of living, and the use of narcotics and stimulants, completely ruin the shattered nervous system. The chief causes of neurasthenia may conveniently be treated in separate paragraphs.
1. Heredity. In many cases a perfectly healthy person may develop nervous prostration through continuous overstrain in mental or physical work with insufficient recreation. Often, however, heredity plays an im portant role. Weak, sickly, and nervous parents are apt to beget children who have a tendency to weakness. To be sure, by means of suitable education and nourishment these can he brought up to become strong, healthy men and women, and need not necessarily become neurasthenic. In many instances, however, this becomes the case, because the tendency that lay dormant in them from their birth was not eradicated.
2. Education. The methods employed in the education of children at home and at school are often conducive to making them neurasthenic. Children who are mentally inferior should by all means be instructed separately, and not together with normal and healthy children. In many cases, however, parents spoil a child through over-indulgence, so that it becomes wilful and capricious, and remains so. It does not learn to control
itself ; its will is never disciplined and strengthened. Unfortunately it seems as though parents had a special affection for their weak offspring, as a result of which they are apt to let them grow up into men and women without character. Such unsuitable bringing-up shows its worst effects in girls, who often remain superficial and arrogant all their lives long, or become the victims of neurasthenia and hysteria. Boys are more apt to get these resultant weaknesses rubbed off through the inevitable friction of life.
3. After-Effects of Sickness. It is self-evident that any initial, severe disease may expose a person to an attack of neurasthenia. This is especially the case if the convalescent does not allow himself sufficient time for recovery ; as, for instance, if he returns to his business too soon, or if a woman (as is so often the case) gets up too soon after confinement, or nurses her child too long.
4. Occupation. Many occupations and professions apparently tend to make their followers neurasthenic, chiefly such in which great mental strain and responsibility occur, especially when accompanied by unfavourable conditions of life, such as insufficient income, neglect, etc. This is the case with many officials, school-teachers, and countless business men. Brain workers, such as bankers, merchants, and professional men, are especially liable.
5. Excessive Physical Strain. Since every muscular exertion fatigues the nervous system, and causes mental weariness, it is clear that an excessive amount of physical labour may be the cause of nervous exhaustion, which can eventually lead to neurasthenia. Muscular activity and mental activity conflict with each other in their higher degrees. Hercules, with his small skull, and the philosopher Kant, with his weak muscles, illustrate this assertion. It is recognised that among school-children the brightest in their classes are the poorest in the gymnasium, and vice versa.