Treatment for mental illness can be dated back all the way to 5000 BCE. Although back then, it wasn't exactly based in science rather religion and superstitions


The practice shown above is one where a priest would cut a large hole in a patients head, "Releasing the demons and evil spirits"

Before the science and knowledge of modern day and the understanding of the human body, many doctors and priests would treat mental illness under the assumption that it was caused by spiritual beings. This of course not being true, led to some weird treatments such as cutting holes in peoples head (shown above) and attempting to scare the demons out or use exorcism.


One of the first major advances in treatment came from the greek physician Hippocrates in approximately 410 BCE

He introduced the idea that mental illness was rooted in your body and brain, instead of spiritual causes. That he got right, but he also introduced the four humors, black bile, yellow bile, blood, and phlegm. He believed that these four substances were what balanced the human body, leading to practices such as blood letting and vomiting to relieve mental illness.


Little understanding led to mentally ill in even more horrible situations than they were already in

Treatment before asylums and hospitals was left to families, who would hide, abuse, or just abandon them due to the belief that mental illness what genetic and could afflict others in the family. If you had been pegged as mentally ill, you had a slim chance to be treated fairly, or even like a human at all. These practices led to mentally ill being left out on the streets to beg for money and scraps.


Around 1406 CE the first asylums began to pop in Europe, most notably in Valencia Spain

At this point in history asylums were places to lock the mentally ill, the rejects from society. They focused more on containment of the ill than reintegration, this mentality of treating them like prisoners led to horrible acts against the victims. Some asylums would lock their inhabitants in shackles, with just enough movement to feed themselves, nothing else. They would sit there in a pool of their own waste, waiting for the highly undertrained staff to bring them their next scrawny meal. Some of these practices were even continued all the way to the 1900s, showing the lack of care and understanding of the patients


Bethlam, better known as Bedlam was one of the most cruel and infamous asylums ever

Bedlam was located in London, and treated their patients liked caged zoo animals. The patients would be put on display for the amusement of the public, putting them on display for the people to gawk at, The more peaceful patients would be let loose onto the streets to beg for charity that would be given to the asylum, playing at the peoples pity. While the docile were left on the streets, the more violent and angry would be locked in cages and shown to the people for a price. These treatments made the name Bedlam well known throughout the world.


The La Bicetre mental hospital in paris made huge advances in treatment for the mentally ill

In 1792 the asylum had recently changed hands and the new owner, Philippe Pinel, had some ideas to make the asylum better. He wanted to see if the patients responded positively free time, exercised, and were treated fairly. Soon after that the patients became more calm and reasonable, and these changes were implemented throughout the rest of Europe. These practices coupled with medicine soon revolutionized the way people were treated in asylums, and led a new path for modern treatment.




Foerschner, Allison M. "The History of Mental Illness: From "Skull Drills" to "Happy Pills" Inquiries Journal. Inquiries Journal, n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2016.

"NAMI." NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness. NAMI, n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2016.

Farreras, Ingrid G. "History of Mental Illness. Noba. Hood College, n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2016.

Carney, Caroline. "Treatment of Mental Illness." Merck Manuals Consumer Version. Merck Manuals, n.d. Web, 04 Dec. 2016.

Made with Adobe Slate

Make your words and images move.

Get Slate

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.