History of Mental Health Treatment

We have come a long way in the manner we as a society view and treat mental illness. While no system is perfect, we most certainly have altered our perspectives and methods to better ensure that those living with mental health conditions get the best treatment possible.

Ancient Views of Mental Health Care

Ancient civilizations like the Romans and Egyptians considered mental health problems to be of a religious nature. Some thought a person with a mental disorder may be possessed by demons, thus prescribing exorcism as a form of treatment. During the 5th century BC, Greek physician Hippocrates, however, believed that mental illness was physiologically affiliated. As a result, his methods involved a change in environment, living conditions, or occupations.

Treatment From the 1400s to early 1900s

  • 1407: The first facility specifically for mental health is established in Spain.
  • 1700s: Advocacy for mentally ill persons occurred in France. Phillipe Pinel, displeased with living conditions in hospitals for those with mental disorders, orders a change of environment. Patients are given outside time as well as more pleasant surroundings like sunny rooms. He forbids the use of shackles or chains as restraints.
  • 1840s: Dorothea Dix fights for better living conditions for the mentally ill. For over 30 years she lobbies for better care and finally gets the government to fund the building of 32 state psychiatric facilities.
  • 1883: German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin studies mental illness and begins to draw distinctions between different disorders. His notes on the differences between manic-depressive disorder and schizophrenia are still used today.
  • Early 1900s: Using psychoanalytical theories, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung treat their patients for mental illness. Many of the theories they employed are still discussed today and used as a basis for the study of psychology.

The 1930s and Beyond

After the 1920s, the United States saw yet again another shift in society’s view on mental health. A Mind That Found Itself, a book by Clifford Beers, prompts discussion on how mentally ill people are treated in institutions. His ideas begin the roots of the National Mental Health Association. Countless other books like Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1962 also offered an interesting perspective on how people are treated in psychiatric hospitals. This early period of the 20th century marked a big movement in advocacy and care standards for mental health care.

  • 1946: President Harry Truman signs a law that aims to reduce mental illness in the United States, the National Mental Health Act. This law paved the way for the foundation of the National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH) in 1949.
  • 1950s to 1960s: A wave of deinstitutionalization begins, moving patients from psychiatric hospitals to outpatient or less restrictive residential settings. Institutionalization was often thought of as the best method of treatment but overstaffing and poor living conditions prompted a push to outpatient care. This movement also sparks the development of antipsychotic drugs, so as to make a person’s life outside an institution more manageable. In fact, over a 30-year period the number of institutionalized patients dropped from 560,000 in the 1950s to 130,000 in 1980.
  • 1990s: A new generation of prescription antipsychotic drugs emerge, as well as new technology in the medical field.
  • 2008 to 2010: The Wellstone and Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act passes into law. This made it so insurers who did provide mental health coverage could not put limitations on benefits that are not equal to limits on other medical care coverage.

While there is still more to do in order to make mental health care more accessible to those who need it, we have indeed come far from where society was over 100 years ago. At FRN, we’re proud of the progress, and we strive to provide the best mental health treatment available to our clients. Call us today and talk with an experienced professional who can guide you through our admissions process and help you find a treatment plan that’s right for you.