When did people learn about disorders? How were they treated? Who coined the theories and practices? Mental disorders have been around since the dawn of human beings but people were not aware of what they were and its treatment. Ancient theories about mental illness were often the result of beliefs that supernatural causes, such as demonic possession, curses, sorcery, or a vengeful god, were behind the strange symptoms. Remedies, therefore, ran the gamut from the mystical to the brutal. The timeline of mental health begins around 5000 BCE during the Neolithic era. The humans of the Neolithic era believed that opening up a hole in the skull would allow the evil spirit or spirits that inhabited the head of the mentally ill to be released, thereby curing them of their affliction. Remarkably, the process was not universally fatal. Since some skulls showed signs of healing, researchers believe that those individuals survived the process and might even have lived for years afterwards which only endorsed the ‘treatment’. Many other places used priests and other religious methods in treating mental illness which could be brutal and sometimes even fatal.
It was the ancient Egyptians who had the most progressive ideas of the time in how they treated the people among them who had mental health concerns. The medicine men of the Nile recommended that patients engage in recreational activities, such as music, dancing, or painting, to relieve their symptoms and work toward some semblance of normalcy, uncannily similar to some of the avenues of treatment offered in contemporary treatment facilities. The ancient Egyptian civilization was also notably advanced for its time in the fields of medicine, surgery, and knowledge of human anatomy. It took the influence of early European philosophers to nudge ideas of mental illness forward. Somewhere between the 5th and 3rd centuries BCE, the Greek physician Hippocrates rejected the idea that mental instability was the result of supernatural wrath, and wrote that imbalances in thinking and behavior were from “natural occurrences in the body,” in particular, the brain.
In most cases, the family was responsible for the care of the person however, family having custody of mentally ill patients was for a long time seen as a source of shame and humiliation; many families resorted to hiding their loved ones in cellars, sometimes caging them, delegating them to servants’ care, or simply abandoning them, leaving their mentally unhealthy flesh and blood on the streets as beggars. Sadly, this stigma has lasted all these years and is still prevalent. Having a mentally ill person in the family suggests an inherited, disqualifying defect in the bloodline and casts doubt on the social standing and viability of the entire family. Due to this, many people are misunderstood and labelled negatively. Even though treatments and the awareness in today’s age has increased and become better, there are negative aspects too that still arise. Mental Health still has a very long way to go and with more awareness and help, it could save and help many people that are oppressed by the stigma and strain that exists today.