Historical images of mental illness

Explore the similarities and differences between historical images of ‘madness and contemporary interpretations of ‘mental illness’. Historical images of mental illness tend to be leading us towards images of madness, the man or woman locked in a cage screaming all day and night at the top of their lungs rocking back and forward and seeking attention to do something or say something. Though this image is most probably viewed in films or books, there is very little consensus of what madness is and the terms to describe it.

To define mental illness we must really start back early on, the witch-hunts of the 15th century, the society at the time had the beliefs that witches existed in society and are were seen as threats to society. With this then came the negative side that if anything went wrong or something was cursed a witch hunt. From the 15centry society saw madness in witches, the authors of the book Malleus Maleficarum, the Hammer of the Witches, seemed to be very knowledgeable on the sight of witchcraft and what was acceptable.

Native American shamans

To give an understanding to mental illness and madness you have used a time line to represent events that have been brought into light. In the 1600’s Native American shamans or medicine men, or medicine men summoned supernatural powers to treat the mentally ill, incorporating rituals of stonement and purification. Around 1692 witchcraft as seen above and demonic possession were common explanations for mental illness. The Salem witchcraft trials sentenced nineteen people to hanging, as thought to witches.

Physical explanations for madness and mental illness

In 1724 a puritan clergyman, Cotton Mather broke the superstition of madness by advancing physical explanations for madness and mental illness. 1812 Benjamin Rush, became one of the earliest advocates of humane treatment for the mentally ill and this led to the publication of Medical Inquiries and Observations. In 1908 a manic depressive, Clifford Beers wrote the Mind has found itself, an account of his own personal experience as a mental patient. 1909 Sigmund Freud visited America and lectured on Psychoanalysis at Clark University. 1970 saw the mass deinstitutionalization of asylums.

Patients and their families were left to their own resources due to the lack of outpatient programs for rehabilitation and reintegration back into society. Voltaire described what he thought to be madness in his 18th century Philosophical Dictionary as follows: “We call madness that disease of the organs of the brain which inevitably prevents a man from thinking and acting like others. Unable to administer his property he is declared incapable; unable to have ideas suitable for society, he is excluded from it; if he is dangerous he is locked up; if he is violent he is tied up.Sometimes baths, bloodletting and diet cure him”.

Volitaire believes in the fact, that symptoms make someone mad and any actions going against the norms of society a whole. He also believes that it is a sociological as well a biological issue and the term disease of the brain uses the organic route in definition. Volitaire has due to his belief termed that organic can now be classed as an illness and with the term illness it can be treated. Madness was linked to forms of deviance in society and these deviants were often caught and locked away from society.

In society for a male they were historically seen as been the norm and the female in society as being the, ‘mad’, one, it was a label placed on women as way of controlling them, if a woman deviated from the roles of mother or wife was in society deemed as mad. Under 19th century physicians hysteria was the accepted diagnosis for female madness, the female was diagnosed mad before a male was, and this was also due to the majority of all doctors and physicians were male.

Madness became defined as an illness

Madness increasingly became defined as an illness, strong beliefs as to what caused mental illness and could medicine cure it., then slowly the disciplines of psychology were seen as a cure for mental illness. Mental health has and always will be an issue for society The terms Madness’ and ‘mental illness’ are two very different concepts however they are often thought of as the same. Historical images tended to be of madness, as the psychological and sociological definitions had yet to be defined. There is a biological explanation being that madness is an organic malfunction, it is a disease, a breakdown of the brain, and something somewhere has gone badly wrong.

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