Mental Institutions Through History Essay

3174 words - 13 pages

Lunatics, madness, crazy, insane, imbeciles, idiots, retards, weirdos, nut cases, batty;... the discrimination against those with mental illnesses has been around for centuries. Psychiatric illnesses have proven over time to be the most complex of illnesses to treat as they involve biological, psychological, social and cultural components. A major problem for psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses is that they do not have the will to chose who they want to treat, like ordinary physicians, but are rather referred patients by police, courts of law, officials responsible for the care of poor and desolate members of society, general practitioners and family members. This has resulted in a large amount of prejudice against different groups of patients e.g. race, religion etc. Critics in the 1960's claimed that "mental institutions make the healthiest and most sane individuals insane by their degrading and dehumanising conditions" ( Goffman in 1961 and later Rosenhan in 1973).Mental illnesses, although not understood until the 20th Century, have been around since the beginning of man. It has been recorded in ancient Chinese medical literature which dates around 26-27th Century BC onwards and is later represented in the Yellow Emperors Classic of Internal Medicine. Mental illnesses were also recorded in ancient Egypt through the Ebers papyrus in 16th Century BC. Throughout history, different institutions and treatments have been used to treat those with psychiatric illnesses, some had positive effects and some hindered on the more negative and resulted in prejudice against these forms of treatment.During the medieval times, people with mental illnesses were considered possessed by evil spirits in Christian societies. These individuals first went through a process of exorcism with a priest then through a ritual cleansing session with an apothecary, the priest and the apothecary were often the same person. If the individual was still seen to be "mad", then they would be classed as a witch and burned at the stake in front of a public audience. People with mental illnesses in the Red Indian tribes in South America were considered holy and associated with natural forces such as wind, sea, rain, storm and thunder and were thought to be able to speak to the gods. Similar feelings of holiness were applied to mental people in the pre- Islamic period of Arab countries.Bethlehem hospital in London, also known as Bedlam, is most infamous for their inhumane treatment of patients, however it is one of the best hospitals in present day medicine for Psychiatric illnesses. Bedlam was started in 1247 as a hospice for sick and in 1403 had begun accepting "insane." The patients were treated like animals and were not viewed as human by both staff at the hospital and the public. (See Appendix 1)Many different forms of treatment were used as different ideas of treatment came about. At one stage, staff thought that those with mental illnesses could not feel temperature and they...

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