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History of Mental Health

Guest Author - Karen Huber

In modern society, we generally think of mental health care as a relatively new development. In fact, there were attempts to care for the mentally ill in very early history. Although early societies regarded mental illness as magical or religious, the Egyptians, Jewish, and Islam religions showed efforts to define and alleviate mental suffering in the form of mental hospitals, prayers, and drugs. The first psychiatric hospitals were built as early as the 8th century.

The Egyptians believed in life after death and that the mind was the key to the health of the soul. Cures ranged from the use of opium to induce visions, prayers to gods, and dream interpretation to discover the causes of illness. With Judaism, mental illness was defined as a problem in the relationship between the individual and God. Mental, or spiritual health, was the key to righteousness and to God. With Islam, the mentally ill were considered unfit to manage property but were to be treated humanely under a guardian's care. Medieval Muslim physicians and psychologists discovered that mental disorders are caused by dysfunctions in the brain.

During the middle ages, people were sent to workhouses, jails, and asylums. Mental illness was increasingly considered a physical illness for the next few centuries. During the 19th century in Europe and the United states, housing for the mentally ill increased, and classification schemes and diagnostic terms for mental illness came into being. People were treated more humanely.

Psychoanalysis developed in the 20th century along with a more standardized classification scheme. Mental hygiene was promoted and mental health professions developed. The term "shell shock" came into vocabulary after World War I because of an increase in war-related mental conditions.

In the 1940s and 50s, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders was developed along with the use of many, now defunct, therapies, such as electroconvulsive therapy, insulin shock therapy, lobotomies. Benzodiazepines were used in the 1970s for anxiety and depression, and in the 1990s, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and cognitive behavioral therapy were developed.

Into the 21st century, many mental health drugs, less harsh and addictive, are constantly devloped along with new therapies and recovery plans. Movement to deinstitutionalize the mentally ill started in the 1990s and has gradually led to the integration of people in the community.
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Content copyright © 2014 by Karen Huber. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Karen Huber. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Dr. Jonice Webb for details.

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