History of Mental Health Treatments: Early Views

Every year, 42.5 million people in the United States alone suffer from mental illness, which totals to be about 18.2 percent of the population. While stigma associated with having a mental disorder still exists in our society, there’s no denying that huge strides have been made in the realm of mental health diagnosis and treatment options compared to years before. Mental illness has always been an affliction of the human race, but the ways it’s treated and viewed has thankfully changed over time.This series will go over some of the earliest views of mental health and the treatment options available and how the practices have evolved over time and what areas still need desperately improved.


Earliest Views

Many ancient cultures of the world had supernatural views to why a person was exhibiting out of the ordinary behavior. Mental illness during the ancient times was truly a terrifying thing to have, as societies assumed that the cause was due to a demonic possession. The belief was that if a hole was made in the patient’s head, the demonic spirits would leave through the hole in the head and the person would be cured. As you can probably imagine, this procedure was in no way safe during these early days, effectively killing the person or causing even more health problems.



Much like other ancient tribes, the ancient Egyptians seemed to also think that an illness of the mind was thought to be caused by demons of the mind. According to the Ebers papyrus, a scroll that contains medical information and various treatments that were used to heal. Descriptions of some of the ailments sound like mental disorders like depression and dementia. They wrote down incantations that were said to treat these ailments so demons would be removed from the sufferer’s body.



Ancient Greeks seem to have been the society that put the least amount of stigma mental health disorders. According to William V. Harris, a professor of history and director of the Center for the Ancient Mediterranean at Columbia University, Greeks were less concerned about ailments that affected a person internally, like depression, and more concerned about disorders that inhibit an individual’s ability to be an effective member of society. It seems as though people of the ancient Greek time believed that people who had hallucinations were not believed to have anything wrong with them, as it was a sign that the gods were reaching out to them.


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