History Project 409

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History of the Treatment of the Mentally Ill:

History of the Treatment of the Mentally Ill Kinsey Glander Psyc 409

5,000 BCE:

5,000 BCE The first treatments discovered for treating the mentally ill date as far back as 5,000 BCE, starting with the method of trephining.


Trephining Trephining (also known as trepanning), is when a hole is chipped into the skull using a crude instrument, usually made of stone. People believed that the mentally ill were possessed by evil spirits. Creating this hole in the skull allowed a place for the spirits to exit the body.


Mesopotamia In ancient Mesopotamia, priest-doctors treated the mentally ill with magico -religious rituals as mental pathology was believed to mask demonic possession. Exorcisms , incantations, prayer, atonement, and other various mystical rituals were used to drive out the evil spirit. Other means attempted to appeal to the spirit with more human devices--threats, bribery, punishment, and sometimes submission, were hoped to be an effective cure.

Hebrews & Persians:

Hebrews & Persians Hebrews believed that all illness was inflicted upon humans by God as punishment for committing sin, and even demons that were thought to cause some illnesses were attributed to God’s wrath. Ancient Persians attributed illness to demons and believed that good health could be achieved through proper precautions to prevent and protect one from diseases. These included adequate hygiene and purity of the mind and body achieved through good deeds and thoughts.


Egypt Ancient Egyptians seem to be the most forward-thinking in their treatment of mental illness as they recommended that those afflicted with mental pathology engage in recreational activities such as concerts, dances, and painting in order to relieve symptoms and achieve some sense of normalcy. Egyptians are believed to be the first people to identify the brain as the site of mental functions.

400 BCE:

400 BCE Greek physician Hippocrates denied the long-held belief that mental illness was caused by supernatural forces and instead proposed that it stemmed from natural occurrences in the human body, particularly pathology in the brain. Four essential fluids- Blood, Phlegm, Bile, and Black Bile.

Middle Ages:

Middle Ages Through the Middles Ages, mental illness was believed to result from an imbalance of these essential fluids. In order to bring the body back into equilibrium, patients were given emetics, laxatives, and were bled using leeches or cupping.


China T he ill were hidden by their families so that the community or society that they were a part of wouldn’t believe the illness was “a result of immoral behavior by the individual and/or their relatives ”. As a result of this social stigma, many of the mentally ill were forced to either l ive a life of confinement, or were abandoned and forced to live on the streets. Any of those that were abandoned to live on the streets and were rumored “dangerous and unmanageable” were either put in jail or dungeons, out of the public eye.

15th Century:

15 th Century In the early 15 th  century many of those afflicted with psychological disorders were placed in workhouses, madhouses, or asylums because it was too burdensome for the families to care for them. Many of those admitted were abused, abandoned, treated like animals, restrained with shackles and iron collars, cared for by untrained staff, and even put on display. Their “violent” patients were on display and their “gentler” patients were forced to beg on the streets. Patients who were allowed to be visited by family often begged their families to be released, however, since the current stigma of mental handicaps was so negative, their pleas would be ignored. Treatments in these asylums, as well as others, included purging, bloodletting, blistering, dousing patients in either boiling or ice-cold water to “shock” them, sedatives, and using physical restraints such as straitjackets.  


1800’s M any reforms began to take place starting in the mid-to-late 1800’s. Reformists greatly influenced the spread of what is known as the Humanitarian Movement , the first being Phillipe Pinel, in Paris. Pinel believed that “mentally ill patients would improve if they were treated with kindness and consideration” instead of filthy and abusive environments. William Tuke, founded the York Retreat where patients were treated with respect and compassion . Dorothea Dix advocated the hospital movement and in 40 years, got the U.S. government to fund the building of 32 state psychiatric hospitals as well as organizing reforms in asylums across the world.   Dorothea Dix William Tuke Phillipe Pinel

Sigmund Freud:

Sigmund Freud Sigmund Freud, who is referred to as the father of psychology, was the creator of psychoanalysis .   Therapeutic techniques such as hypnosis, “free thinking”, and dream analysis.


Misc. There were still vast majorities of people who believed in the supernatural causes of mental illness and used treatments such as amulets, talismans, and sedatives to “ease the torment” of the afflicted. In the early 20 th  century, women were “preferentially sterilized and lobotomized” and were sometimes even subjected to unnecessary procedures such as a clitoridectomy . The justification for these procedures was that having a mental illness was “unladylike” and required surgical intervention.


1930’s Drugs, electro-convulsive therapy, and surgery are used to treat people with schizophrenia and others with persistent mental illnesses. Some are infected with malaria; others are treated with repeated insulin-induced comas. Others have parts of their brain removed surgically, an operation called a lobotomy, which is performed widely over the next two decades.

1940’s – 2000’s:

1940’s – 2000’s 1946- President  Harry Truman  signs the National Mental Health Act, calling for a National Institute of Mental Health to conduct research into mind, brain, and behavior and thereby reduce mental illness. As a result of this law, NIMH is formally established on April 15, 1949 . 1949- A drug named Lithium is developed, diminishing the use of lobotomy. 1950’s- Behavioral Therapy is invented. 1960’s- Many seriously mentally ill people are removed from institutions due to pharmacology. In the United States they are directed toward local mental health homes and facilities . However, a lot of mentally ill people become homeless. 1979- NAMI is founded. 1990’s- A new generation of antipsychotic drugs are created, better treating patients with less side effects. About 100,000 mentally ill people are being incarcerated due to the lack of beds in hospitals.   2000’s- The Wellstone and Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act passes into law.

Where Are We Now?:

Where Are We N ow? China & India- Millions of people are left untreated due to lack of resources and stigma. North Korea has the highest suicide rate in the world, between 30-40 a day. Almost 90% of these people are mentally ill, but cannot get treatment. Some are still locked away. USA- Eliminated 10% of hospital beds. 60% of adults are untreated. 38,000 suicides- 90% related to mental illness. Treatment is expensive.


References Foerschner , By Allison M. "The History of Mental Illness: From "Skull Drills" to "Happy Pills""  RSS . N.p ., n.d. Web. 09 Oct. 2016 . "A Beautiful Mind: The History of the Treatment of Mental Illness."   History Cooperative Atom . N.p ., n.d. Web. 09 Oct. 2016 . PBS . PBS, n.d. Web. 09 Oct. 2016 . By D.M. Bourneville and P. Régnard [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons. "History of Mental Health Treatment | Dual Diagnosis."  Dual Diagnosis . N.p ., n.d. Web. 09 Oct. 2016 . 헤럴드 . " Avoiding Psychiatric Treatment Linked to Korea's High Suicide Rate." Avoiding Psychiatric Treatment Linked to Korea's High Suicide Rate . N.p ., 27 Jan. 2016. Web. 09 Oct. 2016. "Ask a North Korean: How Do You Treat Mental Illness?"  The Guardian . Guardian News and Media, 06 Aug. 2015. Web. 09 Oct. 2016 . Johnson, Sarah. "Millions of People with Mental Illnesses in China and India Going Untreated, Study Finds."  The Guardian . Guardian News and Media, 18 May 2016. Web. 09 Oct. 2016 . "Cost of Not Caring: Nowhere to Go."  USA Today . Gannett, 12 Jan. 2015. Web. 09 Oct. 2016.

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