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Ostow, M. (1960). The Psychic Function of Depression: A Study in Energetics. Psychoanal Q., 29:355-394.

(1960). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 29:355-394

The Psychic Function of Depression: A Study in Energetics

Mortimer Ostow, M.D.


The depression syndrome is a reaction to a loss, and it governs attempts to retrieve the lost object. It includes the following components. A psychic pain motivates the efforts to retrieve the object. Visible physical changes affect facial expression and posture, communicate the patient's helplessness to others, and thus mobilize the efforts of those who love him to protect him. Inertia and a sense of emptiness and enervation prevent flooding of the ego by instinctual impulses which, in the absence of the lost object, cannot be gratified. These last changes are the manifestations of a depletion of the energy content of the ego.

Enervation does not always occur. When it is absent we see affective depression, accompanied by active and often destructive striving toward objects. When enervation is excessive we see melancholia. Understanding the status of ego energy in depression permits us to explain many characteristics of neurotic

and melancholic depression. Such understanding is vital to proper treatment of depression, whether by psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, or drugs.

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