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1.4: The History of Mental Illness

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    Learning Objectives
    • Describe prehistoric and ancient beliefs about mental illness.
    • Describe Greco-Roman thought on mental illness.
    • Describe thoughts on mental illness during the Middle Ages.
    • Describe thoughts on mental illness during the Renaissance.
    • Describe thoughts on mental illness during the 18th and 19th centuries.
    • Describe thoughts on mental illness during the 20th and 21st centuries.
    • Describe the status of mental illness today.
    • Outline the use of psychoactive drugs throughout time and their impact.
    • Clarify the importance of managed health care for the treatment of mental illness.
    • Define and clarify the importance of multicultural psychology.
    • State the issue surrounding prescription rights for psychologists.
    • Explain the importance of prevention science.

    As we have seen so far, what is considered abnormal behavior is often dictated by the culture/society a person lives in, and unfortunately, the past has not treated the afflicted very well. In this section, we will examine how past societies viewed and dealt with mental illness.

    Prehistoric and Ancient Beliefs

    Prehistoric cultures often held a supernatural view of abnormal behavior and saw it as the work of evil spirits, demons, gods, or witches who took control of the person. This form of demonic possession often occurred when the person engaged in behavior contrary to the religious teachings of the time. Treatment by cave dwellers included a technique called trephination, in which a stone instrument known as a trephine was used to remove part of the skull, creating an opening. Through it, the evil spirits could escape, thereby ending the person’s mental affliction and returning them to normal behavior. Early Greek, Hebrew, Egyptian, and Chinese cultures used a treatment method called exorcism in which evil spirts were cast out through prayer, magic, flogging, starvation, having the person ingest horrible tasting drinks, or noisemaking.

    Greco-Roman Thought

    Rejecting the idea of demonic possession, Greek physician Hippocrates (460-377 B.C.) said that mental disorders were akin to physical ailments and had natural causes. Specifically, they arose from brain pathology, or head trauma/brain dysfunction or disease, and were also affected by heredity. Hippocrates classified mental disorders into three main categories – melancholia, mania, and phrenitis (brain fever) – and gave detailed clinical descriptions of each. He also described four main fluids or humors that directed normal brain functioning and personality – blood which arose in the heart, black bile arising in the spleen, yellow bile or choler from the liver, and phlegm from the brain. Mental disorders occurred when the humors were in a state of imbalance such as an excess of yellow bile causing frenzy and too much black bile causing melancholia or depression. Hippocrates believed mental illnesses could be treated as any other disorder and focused on the underlying pathology.

    Also noteworthy was the Greek philosopher Plato (429-347 B.C.), who said that the mentally ill were not responsible for their actions and should not be punished. It was the responsibility of the community and their families to care for them. The Greek physician Galen (A.D. 129-199) said mental disorders had either physical or psychological causes, including fear, shock, alcoholism, head injuries, adolescence, and changes in menstruation.

    In Rome, physician Asclepiades (124-40 BC) and philosopher Cicero (106-43 BC) rejected Hippocrates’ idea of the four humors and instead stated that melancholy arises from grief, fear, and rage; not excess black bile. Roman physicians treated mental disorders with massage or warm baths, the hope being that their patients would be as comfortable as they could be. They practiced the concept of contrariis contrarius, meaning opposite by opposite, and introduced contrasting stimuli to bring about balance in the physical and mental domains. An example would be consuming a cold drink while in a warm bath.

    The Middle Ages – 500 AD to 1500 AD

    The progress made during the time of the Greeks and Romans was quickly reversed during the Middle Ages with the increase in power of the Church and the fall of the Roman Empire. Mental illness was yet again explained as possession by the Devil and methods such as exorcism, flogging, prayer, the touching of relics, chanting, visiting holy sites, and holy water were used to rid the person of demonic influence. In extreme cases, the afflicted were exposed to confinement, beatings, and even execution. Scientific and medical explanations, such as those proposed by Hippocrates, were discarded.

    Group hysteria, or mass madness, was also seen when large numbers of people displayed similar symptoms and false beliefs. This included the belief that one was possessed by wolves or other animals and imitated their behavior, called lycanthropy, and a mania in which large numbers of people had an uncontrollable desire to dance and jump, called tarantism. The latter was believed to have been caused by the bite of the wolf spider, now called the tarantula, and spread quickly from Italy to Germany and other parts of Europe where it was called Saint Vitus’s dance.

    Perhaps the return to supernatural explanations during the Middle Ages makes sense given events of the time. The black death (bubonic plague) killed up to a third, or according to other estimates almost half, of the population. Famine, war, social oppression, and pestilence were also factors. The constant presence of death led to an epidemic of depression and fear. Near the end of the Middle Ages, mystical explanations for mental illness began to lose favor, and government officials regained some of their lost power over nonreligious activities. Science and medicine were again called upon to explain psychopathology.

    The Renaissance – 14th to 16th centuries

    The most noteworthy development in the realm of philosophy during the Renaissance was the rise of humanism, or the worldview that emphasizes human welfare and the uniqueness of the individual. This perspective helped continue the decline of supernatural views of mental illness. In the mid to late 1500s, German physician Johann Weyer (1515-1588) published his book, On the Deceits of the Demons, that rebutted the Church’s witch-hunting handbook, the Malleus Maleficarum, and argued that many accused of being witches and subsequently imprisoned, tortured, and/or burned at the stake, were mentally disturbed and not possessed by demons or the Devil himself. He believed that like the body, the mind was susceptible to illness. Not surprisingly, the book was vehemently protested and banned by the Church. It should be noted that these types of acts occurred not only in Europe, but also in the United States. The most famous example, the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, resulted in more than 200 people accused of practicing witchcraft and 20 deaths.

    The number of asylums, or places of refuge for the mentally ill where they could receive care, began to rise during the 16th century as the government realized there were far too many people afflicted with mental illness to be left in private homes. Hospitals and monasteries were converted into asylums. Though the intent was benign in the beginning, as the facilities overcrowded, the patients came to be treated more like animals than people. In 1547, the Bethlem Hospital opened in London with the sole purpose of confining those with mental disorders. Patients were chained up, placed on public display, and often heard crying out in pain. The asylum became a tourist attraction, with sightseers paying a penny to view the more violent patients, and soon was called “Bedlam” by local people; a term that today means “a state of uproar and confusion” (

    Reform Movement – 18th to 19th centuries

    The rise of the moral treatment movement occurred in Europe in the late 18th century and then in the United States in the early 19th century. The earliest proponent was Francis Pinel (1745-1826), the superintendent of la Bicetre, a hospital for mentally ill men in Paris. Pinel stressed respectful treatment and moral guidance for the mentally ill while considering their individual, social, and occupational needs. Arguing that the mentally ill were sick people, Pinel ordered that chains be removed, outside exercise be allowed, sunny and well-ventilated rooms replace dungeons, and patients be extended kindness and support. This approach led to considerable improvement for many of the patients, so much so, that several were released.

    Following Pinel’s lead, William Tuke (1732-1822), a Quaker tea merchant, established a pleasant rural estate called the York Retreat. The Quakers believed that all people should be accepted for who they are and treated kindly. At the retreat, patients could work, rest, talk out their problems, and pray (Raad & Makari, 2010). The work of Tuke and others led to the passage of the Country Asylums Act of 1845, which required that every county provide asylum to the mentally ill. This sentiment extended to English colonies such as Canada, India, Australia, and the West Indies as word of the maltreatment of patients at a facility in Kingston, Jamaica spread, leading to an audit of colonial facilities and their policies.

    Reform in the United States started with the figure largely considered to be the father of American psychiatry, Benjamin Rush (1745-1813). Rush advocated for the humane treatment of the mentally ill, showing them respect, and even giving them small gifts from time to time. Despite this, his practice included treatments such as bloodletting and purgatives, the invention of the “tranquilizing chair,” and reliance on astrology, showing that even he could not escape from the beliefs of the time.

    Due to the rise of the moral treatment movement in both Europe and the United States, asylums became habitable places where those afflicted with mental illness could recover. Regrettably, its success was responsible for its decline. The number of mental hospitals greatly increased, leading to staffing shortages and a lack of funds to support them. Though treating patients humanely was a noble endeavor, it did not work for some patients and other treatments were needed, though they had not been developed yet. Staff recognized that the approach worked best when the facility had 200 or fewer patients, but waves of immigrants arriving in the U.S. after the Civil War overwhelmed the facilities, and patient counts soared to 1,000 or more. Prejudice against the new arrivals led to discriminatory practices in which immigrants were not afforded the same moral treatments as native citizens, even when the resources were available to treat them.

    The moral treatment movement also fell due to the rise of the mental hygiene movement, which focused on the physical well-being of patients. Its leading proponent in the United States was Dorothea Dix (1802-1887), a New Englander who observed the deplorable conditions suffered by the mentally ill while teaching Sunday school to female prisoners. Over the next 40 years, from 1841 to 1881, she motivated people and state legislators to do something about this injustice and raised millions of dollars to build over 30 more appropriate mental hospitals and improve others. Her efforts even extended beyond the U.S. to Canada and Scotland.

    Finally, in 1908 Clifford Beers (1876-1943) published his book, A Mind that Found Itself, in which he described his struggle with bipolar disorder and the “cruel and inhumane treatment people with mental illnesses received. He witnessed and experienced horrific abuse at the hands of his caretakers. At one point during his institutionalization, he was placed in a straitjacket for 21 consecutive nights” ( His story aroused sympathy from the public and led him to found the National Committee for Mental Hygiene, known today as Mental Health America, which provides education about mental illness and the need to treat these people with dignity. Today, MHA has over 200 affiliates in 41 states and employs 6,500 affiliate staff and over 10,000 volunteers.

    “In the early 1950s, Mental Health America issued a call to asylums across the country for their discarded chains and shackles. On April 13, 1953, at the McShane Bell Foundry in Baltimore, Md., Mental Health America melted down these inhumane bindings and recast them into a sign of hope: the Mental Health Bell.

    Now the symbol of Mental Health America, the 300-pound Bell serves as a powerful reminder that the invisible chains of misunderstanding and discrimination continue to bind people with mental illnesses. Today, the Mental Health Bell rings out hope for improving mental health and achieving victory over mental illnesses.”

    For more information on MHA, please visit:

    20th – 21st Centuries

    The decline of the moral treatment approach in the late 19th century led to the rise of two competing perspectives – the biological or somatogenic perspective and the psychological or psychogenic perspective. or Somatogenic Perspective. Recall that Greek physicians Hippocrates and Galen said that mental disorders were akin to physical disorders and had natural causes. Though the idea fell into oblivion for several centuries, it re-emerged in the late 19th century for two reasons. First, German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin (1856-1926) discovered that symptoms occurred regularly in clusters, which he called syndromes. These syndromes represented a unique mental disorder with a distinct cause, course, and prognosis. In 1883 he published his textbook, Compendium der Psychiatrie (Textbook of Psychiatry), and described a system for classifying mental disorders that became the basis of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) that is currently in its 5th edition Text Revision (published in 2022).

    Secondly, in 1825, the behavioral and cognitive symptoms of advanced syphilis were identified to include a belief that everyone is plotting against you or that you are God (a delusion of grandeur), and were termed general paresis by French physician A.L.J. Bayle. In 1897, Viennese psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebbing injected patients suffering from general paresis with matter from syphilis spores and noted that none of the patients developed symptoms of syphilis, indicating they must have been previously exposed and were now immune. This led to the conclusion that syphilis was the cause of the general paresis. In 1906, August von Wassermann developed a blood test for syphilis, and in 1917 a cure was found. Julius von Wagner-Jauregg noticed that patients with general paresis who contracted malaria recovered from their symptoms. To test this hypothesis, he injected nine patients with blood from a soldier afflicted with malaria. Three of the patients fully recovered while three others showed great improvement in their paretic symptoms. The high fever caused by malaria burned out the syphilis bacteria. Hospitals in the United States began incorporating this new cure for paresis into their treatment approach by 1925.

    Also noteworthy was the work of American psychiatrist John P. Grey. Appointed as superintendent of the Utica State Hospital in New York, Grey asserted that insanity always had a physical cause. As such, the mentally ill should be seen as physically ill and treated with rest, proper room temperature and ventilation, and a nutritive diet.

    The 1930s also saw the use of electric shock as a treatment method, which was stumbled upon accidentally by Benjamin Franklin while experimenting with electricity in the early 18th century. He noticed that after suffering a severe shock his memories had changed, and in published work, he suggested physicians study electric shock as a treatment for melancholia. Psychological or Psychogenic Perspective. The psychological or psychogenic perspective states that emotional or psychological factors are the cause of mental disorders and represented a challenge to the biological perspective. This perspective had a long history but did not gain favor until the work of Viennese physician Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815). Influenced heavily by Newton’s theory of gravity, he believed that the planets also affected the human body through the force of animal magnetism and that all people had a universal magnetic fluid that determined how healthy they were. He demonstrated the usefulness of his approach when he cured Franzl Oesterline, a 27-year-old woman suffering from what he described as a convulsive malady. Mesmer used a magnet to disrupt the gravitational tides that were affecting his patient and produced a sensation of the magnetic fluid draining from her body. This procedure removed the illness from her body and provided a near-instantaneous recovery. In reality, the patient was placed in a trancelike state which made her highly suggestible. With other patients, Mesmer would have them sit in a darkened room filled with soothing music, into which he would enter dressed in a colorful robe and pass from person to person touching the afflicted area of their body with his hand or a rod/wand. He successfully cured deafness, paralysis, loss of bodily feeling, convulsions, menstrual difficulties, and blindness.

    His approach gained him celebrity status as he demonstrated it at the courts of English nobility. However, the medical community was hardly impressed. A royal commission was formed to investigate his technique but could not find any proof for his theory of animal magnetism. Though he was able to cure patients when they touched his “magnetized” tree, the result was the same when “non-magnetized” trees were touched. As such, Mesmer was deemed a charlatan and forced to leave Paris. His technique was called mesmerism, better known today as hypnosis.

    The psychological perspective gained popularity after two physicians practicing in the city of Nancy in France discovered that they could induce the symptoms of hysteria in perfectly healthy patients through hypnosis and then remove the symptoms in the same way. The work of Hippolyte-Marie Bernheim (1840-1919) and Ambroise-Auguste Liebault (1823-1904) came to be part of what was called the Nancy School and showed that hysteria was nothing more than a form of self-hypnosis. In Paris, this view was challenged by Jean Charcot (1825-1893), who stated that hysteria was caused by degenerative brain changes, reflecting the biological perspective. He was proven wrong and eventually turned to their way of thinking.

    The use of hypnosis to treat hysteria was also carried out by fellow Frenchman Pierre Janet (1859-1947), and student of Charcot, who believed that hysteria had psychological, not biological causes. Namely, these included unconscious forces, fixed ideas, and memory impairments. In Vienna, Josef Breuer (1842-1925) induced hypnosis and had patients speak freely about past events that upset them. Upon waking, he discovered that patients sometimes were free of their symptoms of hysteria. Success was even greater when patients not only recalled forgotten memories but also relived them emotionally. He called this the cathartic method, and our use of the word catharsis today indicates a purging or release, in this case, of pent-up emotion.

    By the end of the 19th century, it had become evident that mental disorders were caused by a combination of biological and psychological factors, and the investigation of how they develop began. Sigmund Freud’s development of psychoanalysis followed on the heels of the work of Bruner, and others who came before him.

    Current Views/Trends Mental illness today. An article published by the Harvard Medical School in March 2014 called “The Prevalence and Treatment of Mental Illness Today” presented the results of the National Comorbidity Study Replication of 2001-2003, which included a sample of more than 9,000 adults. The results showed that nearly 46% of the participants had a psychiatric disorder at some time in their lives. The most commonly reported disorders were:

    • Major depression – 17%
    • Alcohol abuse – 13%
    • Social anxiety disorder – 12%
    • Conduct disorder – 9.5%

    Also of interest was that women were more likely to have had anxiety and mood disorders while men showed higher rates of impulse control disorders. Comorbid anxiety and mood disorders were common, and 28% reported having more than one co-occurring disorder (Kessler, Berglund, et al., 2005; Kessler, Chiu, et al., 2005; Kessler, Demler, et al., 2005).

    About 80% of the sample reported seeking treatment for their disorder, but with as much as a 10-year gap after symptoms first appeared. Women were more likely than men to seek help while whites were more likely than African and Hispanic Americans (Wang, Berglund, et al., 2005; Wang, Lane, et al., 2005). Care was sought primarily from family doctors, nurses, and other general practitioners (23%), followed by social workers and psychologists (16%), psychiatrists (12%), counselors or spiritual advisers (8%), and complementary and alternative medicine providers (CAMs; 7%).

    In terms of the quality of the care, the article states:

    Most of this treatment was inadequate, at least by the standards applied in the survey. The researchers defined minimum adequacy as a suitable medication at a suitable dose for two months, along with at least four visits to a physician; or else eight visits to any licensed mental health professional. By that definition, only 33% of people with a psychiatric disorder were treated adequately, and only 13% of those who saw general medical practitioners.

    In comparison to the original study conducted from 1991-1992, the use of mental health services has increased over 50% during this decade. This may be attributed to treatment becoming more widespread and increased attempts to educate the public about mental illness. Stigma, discussed in Section 1.3, has reduced over time, diagnosis is more effective, community outreach programs have increased, and most importantly, general practitioners have been more willing to prescribe psychoactive medications which themselves are more readily available now. The article concludes, “Survey researchers also suggest that we need more outreach and voluntary screening, more education about mental illness for the public and physicians, and more effort to treat substance abuse and impulse control disorders.” We will explore several of these issues in the remainder of this section, including the use of psychiatric drugs and deinstitutionalization, managed health care, private psychotherapy, positive psychology and prevention science, multicultural psychology, and prescription rights for psychologists. Use of psychiatric drugs and deinstitutionalization. Beginning in the 1950s, psychiatric or psychotropic drugs were used for the treatment of mental illness and made an immediate impact. Though drugs alone cannot cure mental illness, they can improve symptoms and increase the effectiveness of treatments such as psychotherapy. Classes of psychiatric drugs include anti-depressants used to treat depression and anxiety, mood-stabilizing medications to treat bipolar disorder, anti-psychotic drugs to treat schizophrenia, and anti-anxiety drugs to treat generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder

    Frank (2006) found that by 1996, psychotropic drugs were used in 77% of mental health cases and spending on these drugs grew from $2.8 billion in 1987 to about $18 billion in 2001 (Coffey et al., 2000; Mark et al., 2005), representing over a sixfold increase. The largest classes of psychotropic drugs are anti-psychotics and anti-depressants, followed closely by anti-anxiety medications. Frank, Conti, and Goldman (2005) point out, “The expansion of insurance coverage for prescription drugs, the introduction and diffusion of managed behavioral health care techniques, and the conduct of the pharmaceutical industry in promoting their products all have influenced how psychotropic drugs are used and how much is spent on them.” Is it possible then that we are overprescribing these mediations? Davey (2014) provides ten reasons why this may be so, including leading suffers from believing that recovery is in their hands but instead in the hands of their doctors; increased risk of relapse; drug companies causing the “medicalization of perfectly normal emotional processes, such as bereavement” to ensure their survival; side effects; and a failure to change the way the person thinks or the socioeconomic environments that may be the cause of the disorder. For more on this article, please see: Smith (2012) echoed similar sentiments in an article on inappropriate prescribing. He cites the approval of Prozac by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1987 as when the issue began and the overmedication/overdiagnosis of children with ADHD as a more recent example.

    A result of the use of psychiatric drugs was deinstitutionalization, or the release of patients from mental health facilities. This shifted resources from inpatient to outpatient care and placed the spotlight back on the biological or somatogenic perspective. When people with severe mental illness do need inpatient care, it is typically in the form of short-term hospitalization. Managed health care.Managed health care is a term used to describe a type of health insurance in which the insurance company determines the cost of services, possible providers, and the number of visits a subscriber can have within a year. This is regulated through contracts with providers and medical facilities. The plans pay the providers directly, so subscribers do not have to pay out-of-pocket or complete claim forms, though most require co-pays paid directly to the provider at the time of service. Exactly how much the plan costs depends on how flexible the subscriber wants it to be; the more flexibility, the higher the cost. Managed health care takes three forms:

    • Health Maintenance Organizations (HMO) – Typically only pay for care within the network. The subscriber chooses a primary care physician (PCP) who coordinates most of their care. The PCP refers the subscriber to specialists or other health care providers as is necessary. This is the most restrictive option.
    • Preferred Provider Organizations (PPO) – Usually pay more if the subscriber obtains care within the network, but if care outside the network is sought, they cover part of the cost.
    • Point of Service (POS) – These plans provide the most flexibility and allow the subscriber to choose between an HMO or a PPO each time care is needed.

    Regarding the treatment needed for mental illness, managed care programs regulate the pre-approval of treatment via referrals from the PCP, determine which mental health providers can be seen, and oversee which conditions can be treated and what type of treatment can be delivered. This system was developed in the 1980s to combat the rising cost of mental health care and took responsibility away from single practitioners or small groups who could charge what they felt was appropriate. The actual impact of managed care on mental health services is still questionable at best. Multicultural psychology. As our society becomes increasingly diverse, medical practitioners and psychologists alike must take into account the patient’s gender, age, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic (SES) status, and culture and how these factors shape the individual’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Additionally, we need to understand how the various groups, whether defined by race, culture, or gender, differ from one another. This approach is called multicultural psychology.

    In August 2002, the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Council of Representatives put forth six guidelines based on the understanding that “race and ethnicity can impact psychological practice and interventions at all levels” and the need for respect and inclusiveness. They further state, “psychologists are in a position to provide leadership as agents of prosocial change, advocacy, and social justice, thereby promoting societal understanding, affirmation, and appreciation of multiculturalism against the damaging effects of individual, institutional, and societal racism, prejudice, and all forms of oppression based on stereotyping and discrimination.” The guidelines from the 2002 document are as follows:

    • “Guideline #1: Psychologists are encouraged to recognize that, as cultural beings, they may hold attitudes and beliefs that can detrimentally influence their perceptions of and interactions with individuals who are ethnically and racially different from themselves.
    • Guideline #2: Psychologists are encouraged to recognize the importance of multicultural sensitivity/responsiveness, knowledge, and understanding about ethnically and racially different individuals.
    • Guideline #3: As educators, psychologists are encouraged to employ the constructs of multiculturalism and diversity in psychological education.
    • Guideline #4: Culturally sensitive psychological researchers are encouraged to recognize the importance of conducting culture–centered and ethical psychological research among persons from ethnic, linguistic, and racial minority backgrounds.
    • Guideline #5: Psychologists strive to apply culturally-appropriate skills in clinical and other applied psychological practices.
    • Guideline #6: Psychologists are encouraged to use organizational change processes to support culturally informed organizational (policy) development and practices.”


    This type of sensitivity training is vital because bias based on ethnicity, race, and culture has been found in the diagnosis and treatment of autism (Harrison et al., 2017; Burkett, 2015), borderline personality disorder (Jani et al., 2016), and schizophrenia (Neighbors et al., 2003; Minsky et al., 2003). Despite these findings, Schwartz and Blankenship (2014) state, “It should also be noted that although clear evidence supports a longstanding trend in differential diagnoses according to consumer race, this trend does not imply that one race (e.g., African Americans) actually demonstrate more severe symptoms or higher prevalence rates of psychosis compared with other races (e.g., Euro-Americans). Because clinicians are the diagnosticians and misinterpretation, bias or other factors may play a role in this trend caution should be used when making inferences about actual rates of psychosis among ethnic minority persons.” Additionally, white middle-class help seekers were offered appointments with psychotherapists almost three times as often as their black working-class counterparts. Women were offered an appointment time in their preferred time range more than men were, though average appointment offer rates were similar between genders (Kugelmass, 2016). These findings collectively show that though we are becoming more culturally sensitive, we have a lot more work to do. Prescription rights for psychologists. To reduce inappropriate prescribing as described in, it has been proposed to allow appropriately trained psychologists the right to prescribe. Psychologists are more likely to utilize both therapy and medication, and so can make the best choice for their patient. The right has already been granted in New Mexico, Louisiana, Guam, the military, the Indian Health Services, and the U.S. Public Health Services. Measures in other states “have been opposed by the American Medical Association and American Psychiatric Association over concerns that inadequate training of psychologists could jeopardize patient safety. Supporters of prescriptive authority for psychologists are quick to point out that there is no evidence to support these concerns” (Smith, 2012). Prevention science. As a society, we used to wait for a mental or physical health issue to emerge, then scramble to treat it. More recently, medicine and science has taken a prevention stance, identifying the factors that cause specific mental health issues and implementing interventions to stop them from happening, or at least minimize their deleterious effects. Our focus has shifted from individuals to the population. Mental health promotion programs have been instituted with success in schools (Shoshani & Steinmetz, 2014; Weare & Nind, 2011; Berkowitz & Beer, 2007), in the workplace (Czabała, Charzyńska, & Mroziak, B., 2011), with undergraduate and graduate students (Conley et al., 2017; Bettis et al., 2016), in relation to bullying (Bradshaw, 2015), and with the elderly (Forsman et al., 2011). Many researchers believe it is the ideal time to move from knowledge to action and to expand public mental health initiatives (Wahlbeck, 2015). The growth of positive psychology in the late 1990s has further propelled this movement forward. For more on positive psychology, please see Section 1.1.1.

    Key Takeaways

    You should have learned the following in this section:

    • Some of the earliest views of mental illness saw it as the work of evil spirts, demons, gods, or witches who took control of the person, and in the Middle Ages it was seen as possession by the Devil and methods such as exorcism, flogging, prayer, the touching of relics, chanting, visiting holy sites, and holy water were used to rid the person of demonic influence.
    • During the Renaissance, humanism was on the rise which emphasized human welfare and the uniqueness of the individual and led to an increase in the number of asylums as places of refuge for the mentally ill.
    • The 18th to 19th centuries saw the rise of the moral treatment movement followed by the mental hygiene movement.
    • The psychological or psychogenic perspective states that emotional or psychological factors are the cause of mental disorders and represented a challenge to the biological perspective which said that mental disorders were akin to physical disorders and had natural causes.
    • Psychiatric or psychotropic drugs used to treat mental illness became popular beginning in the 1950s and led to deinstitutionalization or a shift from inpatient to outpatient care.
    Review Questions
    1. How has mental illness been viewed across time?
    2. Contrast the moral treatment and mental hygiene movements.
    3. Contrast the biological or somatogenic perspective with that of the psychological or psychogenic perspective.
    4. Discuss contemporary trends in relation to the use of drugs to treat mental illness, deinstitutionalization, managed health care, multicultural psychology, prescription rights for psychologists, and prevention science.

    This page titled 1.4: The History of Mental Illness is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Alexis Bridley and Lee W. Daffin Jr. via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform.