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Lovesickness refers to an affliction that can produce negative feelings when deeply in love, during the absence of a loved one or when love is unrequited. It has been considered a condition since the medieval ages and symptoms that have remained consistent across time include a loss of appetite and insomnia.[1][2]

The term lovesickness is rarely used in medical or psychological fields but new research is being undertaken on the impact of heartbreak on the body and mind.[3]

Love as mental illness[edit]

Literature and poetry have often 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.[4] 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.[5] In both cases, lovesickness can be experienced if love is lost or unrequited.

The love sick Antiochus I Soter

Love sickness is not just an expression but has been studied as an actual illness. 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".[6]

Scientific study on the topic of lovesickness has found that those in love experience a kind of high similar to that caused by illicit drugs such as cocaine. In the brain, certain neurotransmittersphenethylamine, 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.[7]

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.[8] 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).[9]

In his book The Social Nature of Mental Illness, Professor Len Bowers brings up the fact that although physiological differences exist in the brain of those that are deemed "mentally ill," there are several other criteria that must be met before the differences can be called a malfunction. It is possible, therefore, that many mental illnesses, such as lovesickness, will never have strong enough evidence to officially be considered a legitimate affliction.


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.[9] Similarly, health experts agree that lovesickness has been known to kill and the diagnosis process should be taken more seriously.[10] 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.

Tallis includes a list of common symptoms of love sickness:

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.[9] 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.[11]


William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet portrays the true madness of "love" and the grief that the two young, infatuated lovers feel.[12] 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Williams, Laura Kalas. "Being lovesick was a real disease in the Middle Ages". The Conversation. Retrieved 2020-02-25.
  2. ^ Wack, Mary Frances (January 1990). Lovesickness in the Middle Ages: The Viaticum and Its Commentaries. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 978-0-8122-8142-2.
  3. ^ "Love, Actually: The science behind lust, attraction, and companionship". Science in the News. 2017-02-14. Retrieved 2020-02-25.
  4. ^ Tallis, Frank. "Is Love a Mental Illness?". Archived from the original on 12 September 2017. Retrieved 26 March 2014.
  5. ^ Whitbourne, Susan K. "What is the Passion in Passionate Love?". Psychology Today. Retrieved 29 March 2014.
  6. ^ Janet Malcolm, Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession (1988) p. 9
  7. ^ Vaughn, Tricia. "Love sickness is real, and the high it provides looks a lot like cocaine usage". Article. The Crimson White. Archived from the original on 7 April 2014. Retrieved 28 March 2014.
  8. ^ Tallis, Frank (2004). Love Sick: Love as a Mental Illness (Second ed.). Da Capo Press.
  9. ^ a b c Tallis, F (2005). "Truly, madly deeply in love" (PDF). The Psychologist. 18 (2): 72–4. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-05-05. Retrieved 2014-04-02.
  10. ^ "British study say: Unrequited love can be a 'killer'". BBC. 2 April 2014. Retrieved 28 March 2014.
  11. ^ Marazziti D, Akiskal HS, Rossi A, Cassano GB (May 1999). "Alteration of the platelet serotonin transporter in romantic love". Psychol Med. 29 (3): 741–5. doi:10.1017/S0033291798007946. PMID 10405096.
  12. ^ Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet.

Further reading[edit]