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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 Middle Ages and symptoms that have remained consistent across time include a loss of appetite and insomnia.[1]

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.[2]


Lovesickness and Melancholy were often found hand in hand.[3] It was perceived as a mental illness sometimes associated with melancholia.

Other than medicine it was the focus of cultural and literary analyses. The motif is found throughout literature, from the Lais of Marie de France to Romeo and Juliet. Both of these depict individuals literally dying because of love, the former by the lovesickness itself and the latter by suicide. Aretaeus of Cappadocia, an ancient Greek physician,[4] believed that lovesickness was a depressive phase that some individuals can experience from lack of love, but didn't distinguish it from melancholia.[3] The first extensive treatment of lovesickness, then called Love-Melancholy, was in Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy. The best understandings of all psychological conditions at that time were based on Humorism.

The Roman physician Caelius Aurelianus[5] viewed lovesickness as a condition similar to melancholia due to their overlapping symptoms. It causes symptoms such as stress, anxiety, insomnia, depression, and feelings of unhappiness.[3]

Aretaeus of Cappadocia

Love as mental illness

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.[6] 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.[7] In both cases, lovesickness can be experienced if love is lost or unrequited.

The lovesick Antiochus I Soter

Lovesickness 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".[8]

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 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.[9]

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.[10] 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).[11]

In his book The Social Nature of Mental Illness, Len Bowers postulates 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 bear strong enough evidence to clinically warrant 'legitimate' affliction by clinical-standards; without further, correspondingly parasympatric, criteria of established dysfunction(s).


Insomnia, loss of appetite, and nausea are the most common symptoms of lovesickness.[12] Affected individuals may also have pale skin, increased worry and are distracted more often than usual.[12] Some may also suffer from lovesickness as it could affect their mood negatively.[12] 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.[11]

Tallis includes a list of common symptoms of lovesickness:

According to Tallis, many symptoms of lovesickness 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.[11] A further study conducted by Italian Psychiatrist Donatella Marazitti found that people who fall in love have their serotonin levels drop to levels found in patients with OCD. This level is significantly lower than that of an average or healthy person.[13]

In the arts

William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet portrays the true madness of "love" and the grief that the two young, infatuated lovers feel.[14] 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 waking and upon seeing his dead body is also overcome with despair and takes her own life.

Gothic metal songs thematize lovesickness from Medieval literary influences. "This emotional and physical distress is a key element of fin'amor that echoes into Gothic metal", according to The Oxford Handbook of Music and Medievalism. "In particular, lovesickness was associated with desires and passions that remained unfulfilled, resulting in symptoms such as sleeplessness, sighing, and loss of appetite, all of which were considered manifestations of the mind's efforts to restrain its passions."[15]

See also


  1. ^ Williams, Laura Kalas. "Being lovesick was a real disease in the Middle Ages". The Conversation. Retrieved .
  2. ^ "Love, Actually: The science behind lust, attraction, and companionship". Science in the News. 2017-02-14. Retrieved .
  3. ^ a b c Toohey, Peter (1992). Love, Lovesickness, and Melancholia. University of Illinois Press. pp. 265-286.
  4. ^ "Aretaeus Of Cappadocia | Greek physician". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved .
  5. ^ "Caelius Aurelianus | Greco-Roman physician". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved .
  6. ^ Tallis, Frank. "Is Love a Mental Illness?". Archived from the original on 12 September 2017. Retrieved 2014.
  7. ^ Whitbourne, Susan K. "What is the Passion in Passionate Love?". Psychology Today. Retrieved 2014.
  8. ^ Janet Malcolm, Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession (1988) p. 9
  9. ^ 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 2014.
  10. ^ Tallis, Frank (2004). Love Sick: Love as a Mental Illness (Second ed.). Da Capo Press.
  11. ^ 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 .
  12. ^ a b c Popova, Maria (2016-03-09). "The Causes and Cures of Lovesickness: A 17th-Century Guide to the Woes of the Heart". Brain Pickings. Retrieved .
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet.
  15. ^ Yri, Kirsten; Meyer, Stephen C., eds. (2020). "Medievalistic Melancholia and Lovesickness". The Oxford Handbook of Music and Medievalism. Oxford University Press. p. 552. ISBN 9780190658465.

Further reading

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