Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/343

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329
MENTAL OVERWORK.

cational grooves. I think I have seen an increase of headaches and nervous complaints among the children of the poor since compulsory attendance has been enforced, and would only wish to record the warning against attempts to make bricks too rapidly out of the straw which has fallen into our hands to mould for good or evil.

Coming to the universities, cases of overwork are, I imagine, more common there, for not only are the young men at a more sensitive period of life, but they naturally feel that to many of them this is their great opportunity—the great crisis of their existence—and that their success or failure will now effectually make or mar their career. Here the element of anxiety comes into play, sleep is disturbed, exercise neglected, digestion suffers, and the inevitable result follows, of total collapse, from which recovery is slow, and perhaps never complete. Others, again, endeavor in their last year to make up for the frivolities of the first two; but when Dr. Morgan takes up for us the history of the intellectual life of the universities in the same exhaustive way in which he has traced the statistics of their leading oars, I doubt not that we shall find that the indictment of overwork brought against them has also been much exaggerated.

But, although less common than is generally supposed, instances of this class of break-down do occur from time to time, and I should like to ask those who have devoted special attention to nervous diseases what is their view of the pathology of such cases as the following:

A student, or an artist, or the master of a public school, after a very heavy mental strain, suddenly gives way, and is seized with sharp illness, comparable in some degree to the old-fashioned brain fever. On his recovery he takes a prolonged rest, and his general health is perfectly restored; he looks strong and hearty, and has even gained flesh, and so at last he thinks himself well enough to resume his duties. But it is found that, although he can do a little, anything like his old power of concentrated attention and steady application is gone, and if he tries to do a full day's work, he breaks down again in minor degree, and at last is obliged to content himself with taking only a very slight share in those occupations in which he used specially to excel, and in many cases his powers are never fully regained. With all the outward appearances of health, he well knows the very narrow limits within which he is now compelled to restrict his intellectual exercise. What, then, is the precise pathological condition here? Various diseases are also known to weaken the mental powers for long periods after convalescence is established, and of these scarlet and enteric fevers rank among the principal.—Lancet.