Frequently, the entire crew of a polar expedition would experience melancholy and depression, as was the case of the Belgica expedition to Antarctica in 1898–99. As described by the great polar explorer and expedition physician, Frederick A Cook, “The curtain of blackness which has fallen over the outer world of icy desolation has descended upon the inner world of our souls. Around the tables, in the laboratory, and in the forecastle, men are sitting about sad and dejected, lost in dreams of melancholy from which, now and then, one arouses with an empty attempt at enthusiasm.”This interesting looking site "Time to Eat the Dogs" (about science, history and exploration) does say that there were "rumours" of cannibalism on the Greely expedition that circulated in the press at the time. Certainly, one man was executed for stealing shrimp from the communal mess pot. Mind you, they were stuck in the Arctic for 3 years before rescue. No wonder they got stressed.
Cook tried to treat these symptoms by having crew members sit in front of large blazing fires. This baking treatment, as he called it, could be the first recorded attempt to use light therapy to treat symptoms of winter depression or seasonal affective disorder. Other expeditions, such as the Greely expedition of 1881–84, met a far worse fate than the Belgica exploration. In their attempt to establish a scientific base on Ellsmere Island in the Arctic, the crew of the Greely expedition was driven to mutiny, madness, suicide, and cannibalism, leaving six survivors of a crew of 25 men.
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Mind Hacks notes an extract from a 2008 Lancet article on mental health issues that arose during polar expeditions. I don't recall hearing about the last one before: