The horrible history of mental health

Would you let someone drain your blood or force you to vomit to treat your depression free picture? No, because there are meds for that! Mental health treatments have come a very long way from its brutal and inhumane beginnings. There may be a long way to go, but medical researched has progressed far from drilling holes into heads and half-drowning the mentally ill. Here’s how far we’ve come!

Is it a curse? Is it divine punishment? No, he’s possessed!

In the past, mental illness was often seen as curse or some form of religious punishment. During the Middle Ages, people believed that you either needed prayer or an exorcism. Today, instead of seeing a priest for depression, we see a psychiatrist and, if needed, take an antidepressant.

Interesting fact: In ancient times, astrologers believed that the moon (called Luna) had an effect on the human mind. That is where the term “lunatic” comes from.

Psychiatric Asylums: A place of torture

Psychiatric hospitals weren’t always the safe treatment facilities they are today. People were treated poorly and overcrowding was a big issue. When the first institutions started appearing in the 1700s, patients were often chained. Treatments included bloodletting, purging, vomiting and being dunked in water! Closer to the end of the century, chaining patients was banned and future patients were treated more humanely.

Electrocution, anyone?

By the 1900s, mental hospitals were over-crowded, under-staffed and underfunded. Even worse were the treatment options.

  • Insulin, the substance some diabetics use to regulate their blood-sugar, was injected in mentally ill patients, putting them in a coma from low blood sugar! The doctors believed the lack of sugar would change the brain and cure the disorder.
  • Electrical convulsions was another favourite. By electrocuting the patient, doctors believed they could reboot the brain.
  • The worst of the lot has to be the lobotomy – a surgical operation where parts of the brain were removed.
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An unlikely silver-lining

After both World Wars, mental illness was taken far more seriously. Shellshock, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, affected many of the men and women involved in the conflict. With more people taking note of the effects of mental health, it suddenly became more important to find proper treatments and a better solution to the over-crowded asylums.

The age of psychiatric meds

The answer came in the form of psychotherapy and drugs. The first of its kind was chloropromazine, an anti-psychotic that is used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. After that, many other medications followed. Everyday meds like antidepressants and mood-stabilisers have changed the way we treat mental disorders and have improved the lives of many, and for the better.

It might not look like it sometimes, but mental health treatment is better now than it has ever been. We’ve come a long way and who knows what the future might hold. We might find new treatments that don’t include drugs, or find new ways to cure mental health issues. The future is limitless and the only way forward, is up.