An illustrated scene at Bedlam from Hogarth’s series of paintings ‘A Rake’s Progress’

A brief history of mental illness

Pre-history to the modern day: the progression of understanding mental illness

Pre-history (eg Stone Age)
Trepanning (drilling holes in the skull) is used to get rid of evil spirits.

Approx. 400 BCE
Hippocrates treats mental illness as a problem of the body rather than a punishment sent by the gods.

1377 CE
Opening of the Bethlem Royal Hospital in London, also known as ‘Bedlam’.

1600s
Chains, shackles and imprisonment are largely used to restrain and control the mentally ill.

1850s
Asylums built.

1870s
Normal ovaries are removed to treat ‘mental madness’ and ‘hysterical vomiting’ in some women.

1879
Wilhelm Wundt opens the first experimental psychology lab at the University of Leipzig in Germany.

Early 1900s
Psychoanalysis inspired by Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and others.

1911
Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler first uses the term ‘schizophrenia’.

WWI
Patients with shell shock are counselled – the precursor of modern treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

1936
Lobotomy (surgical removal of part of the brain).

1938
Electro-shock therapy for schizophrenia and manic depression (now called bipolar disorder).

1949
Lithium for psychosis and manic depression. 

1952
The first anti-psychotic drug, Thorazine, for psychosis.

Mid-1950s
Behaviour therapy for phobias.

1960–63
Librium and Valium for nonpsychotic anxiety.

1970s–1980s
A move away from asylums, mental institutions and hospitals to community-based healthcare.

1980s
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors for depression.

1990s
New generation of anti-psychotic drugs for schizophrenia.

2000s
Mindfulness meditation becomes an increasingly important tool in mainstream psychiatric and psychological care.

2012
The link between hearing voices (previously thought to be a symptom of brain disease) and childhood trauma is found to be stronger than the link between smoking and lung cancer.

2014
LPM570065, a triple reuptake inhibitor (TRI), rapidly reduces depression in rats. This class of drugs is being considered as an alternative treatment for depressed people.

Lead image:

An illustrated scene at Bethlem Royal Hospital in London – commonly known as ‘Bedlam’ – from Hogarth’s series of paintings ‘A Rake’s Progress’ (1732–34).

Wellcome Library, London CC BY

References

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Thinking’ in September 2006 and reviewed and updated in August 2014.

Topics:
Neuroscience, Psychology, Medicine, History, Health, infection and disease
Issue:
Thinking
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development