In ancient times, ‘melancholia’ rather than ‘depression’ was used to describe mood disorders characterized by despondency. ‘A very short history of melancholia’ highlights the descriptions of melancholia and theories about its causes that held sway from ancient times until about the 19th century. It begins with Hippocrates’ black bile theory in the 4th century bc. From about ad 500 there was a shift away from the notion that mental disorders had similar causes to physical ones and a revival of beliefs that mental disorders were signs of immorality, sin, and evil. From the 1500s new attitudes towards melancholia emerged. The birth of modern psychiatry in the 19th century is also described.