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Lovesickness describes the informal syndrome of rejected or unrequited love or the absence of a loved one and covers physical as well as mental symptoms. It is not to be confused with the condition of being lovestruck. Although typically harmless it can for some personalities lead to serious physical or mental illness, sometimes even culminating in attempted suicide. In psychology, lovesickness is seldom acknowledged.
Many people believe lovesickness to be an illness created as an explanation to longings, but it can cause depression and lead to various mental health issues. Lovesickness can make one feel either extremely sad and disappointed or very happy and over-excited.
Love as mental illness
Literature and poetry has always described love as a kind of madness, and the medical profession takes a similar approach. According to the Hippocratic Medicine view, passionate love will almost always fade or turn into 'love melancholy’ — this is a form of depression or sadness. Passionate love is the love in the "honeymoon phase", the beginning of new love, but it burns itself out after a year or two, compassionate love is what occurs after passionate love fades, it is a stronger bond of companionship. In both cases, lovesickness can be experienced if love is lost or unrequited.
In 1915, Sigmund Freud asked rhetorically, "Isn't what we mean by 'falling in love' a kind of sickness and craziness, an illusion, a blindness to what the loved person is really like. Long before Freud, in 360 B.C.E, Plato stated, “Love is a serious mental disease,” and Socrates added that “Love is a madness”. Love sickness isn’t just a form of expression for those head-over-heels, but has been studied as an actual illness.
Scientific study on the topic of lovesickness has found that those in love experience a kind of high similar to that cause by illicit drugs such as cocaine. In the brain, certain neurotransmitters — phenethylamine, dopamine, norepinephrine and oxytocin — elicit the feeling of high from “love” or “falling in love” using twelve different regions of the brain. These neurotransmitters mimic the feeling of amphetamines.
On average a psychologist does not get referrals from general practitioners mentioning "lovesickness", although this can be prevalent through the language of what the patient feels. With the common symptoms of lovesickness being related to other mental diseases, it is often misdiagnosed or it is found that with all the illnesses one could be facing, love is the underlying problem. This is incredibly dangerous when one does not seek help or cannot cope because love has been known to be fatal (a consequence of which might be attempted suicide, thus dramatising the ancient contention that love can be fatal).
Frank Tallis, a researcher in the topic of love and lovesickness, suggests in his 2005 article that lovesickness occurs when one is “truly, madly, deeply” in love and should be taken more seriously by medical professionals. Similarly, health experts agree that lovesickness has been known to kill and the diagnosis process should be taken more seriously. Symptoms of lovesickness are usually misdiagnosed for various other diseases or mental health issues such as OCD, this is because love sickness is less commonly recognized as a mental health issue in itself even though lovesickness is an extremely common, widespread disease.
Tallis includes a list of common symptoms of love sickness:
- Mania - an abnormally elevated mood or inflated self-esteem
- Insomnia, which may lead to fatigue
- Lack of concentration
- Loss of appetite or overeating
- Hopelessness or helplessness
- Stress - high blood pressure, pain in chest and heart, acute insomnia; sometimes brought on by a "crush"
- Obsessive-Compulsive disorder - Preoccupation and hoarding valueless but superstitiously resonant items
- Psychologically created physical symptoms, such as upset stomach, change in appetite, insomnia, dizziness, and confusion
According to Tallis, many symptoms of being lovesick can be categorized under the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) and the ICD-10 (International Classification of Diseases). Obsessive-Compulsive disorder (OCD) is a symptom of lovesickness because it includes a preoccupation, this would include constantly checking one's cellphone, Facebook, the hoarding of valueless items, etc. A further study conducted by Italian Psychiatrist Donatella Marazitti found that when people fall in love their estimated serotonin levels drop to levels found in patients with OCD, this level is significantly lower than that of an average or healthy person.
William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet portrays the true madness of "love" and the grief that the two young, infatuated lovers feel. When Romeo finds his love dead (or so he believes), with the thought of living without his "true love", the grief and depression overcomes him and he takes his own life. Juliet, after awaking and upon seeing his dead body is also overcome with despair and takes her own life.
- Tallis, Frank. "Is Love a Mental Illness?". Retrieved 26 March 2014.
- Whitbourne, Susan K. "What is the Passion in Passionate Love?". Psychology Today. Retrieved 29 March 2014.
- Janet Malcolm, Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession (1988) p. 9
- "Phaedrus". Book. Sue Asscher, and David Widger. Retrieved 28 March 2014.
- Vaughn, Tricia. "Love sickness is real, and the high it provides looks a lot like cocaine usage". Article. The Crimson White. Retrieved 28 March 2014.
- Tallis, Frank (2004). Love Sick: Love as a Mental Illness. Da Capo Press; Second Edition.
- Tallis, F (2005). "Truly, madly deeply in love" (PDF). The Psychologist 18 (2): 72–4.
- "British study say: Unrequited love can be a 'killer'". BBC. 2 April 2014. Retrieved 28 March 2014.
- Marazziti D, Akiskal HS, Rossi A, Cassano GB; Akiskal; Rossi; Cassano (May 1999). "Alteration of the platelet serotonin transporter in romantic love". Psychol Med 29 (3): 741–5. doi:10.1017/S0033291798007946. PMID 10405096.
- Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet.
- Frank Tallis Love Sick: Love as a Mental Illness (2005)
- Tricia Vaughn Love sickness is real, and the high it provides looks a lot like cocaine usage (2013)