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The Stigma Of Madness Essay

1748 words - 7 pages

Many people hold opposing views when it comes to defining what madness is and their attitudes towards it, which in turn makes the labelling of madness to become problematic. According to Foucault madness is ‘a complex social phenomenon’ (Foucault, 2001), suggesting that different definitions relate to particular periods in history and that the classical period represented a key moment in time when attitudes towards madness shifted (SparkNotes Editors, n.d). Madness is defined in various different ways; as a spiritual problem, a chemical disorder, a moral defect and the list does truly go on. The definitions made are suggested to be provisional, as the various forms of mental suffering can be misleading (Foucault & Khalfa, 2006).

It is said that madness dates all the way back to the beginning of the human race. Support for this theory is given by skulls dating back to 3000 BC, which were founded by archaeologists (Porter, 2004). They had small round holes carved in them with the use of flint tools, suggesting that the person was thought to be possessed by devils, and that the holes would allow the demons to escape (Porter, 2004). It was commonly believed that those who suffered from mental illness suffered because they had a ‘disease of the soul’ (Goldberg, 1999). Their madness was theoretically said to come from an evil within, and they were as a result of this treated as animals. In the sixteenth century, there was much secrecy surrounding madness, and although it was an issue that was very much present, it was not openly talked about. It was seen as a sin and the behaviour which people would sometimes view as animalistic would bring shame to the family. The topic of mental health in general and people with mental illnesses were not really of any concern to the public. In fact mental illness was a topic most often treated by individuals and families as a private matter which was out of bounds to outsiders unless they were people of a medical profession (Borinstein, 1992). Not everyone views madness the same and therefore the way people treat the ‘mad’ is different. Some don’t even know how to act so they just see it easier for them to disappear. It is hard to label madness, simply because people will view it in different ways.

The traditional view amongst Christians in the seventeenth century perceived madness as a punishment, ‘visited by god on the sinner’ (Neaman, 1975). Between the sixteenth and seventeenth century ‘lunatics’, as they were sometimes known, were left to their own devices and were dependant on families and parish relief. As many could not afford to visit licensed healers such as physicians and surgeons, they were left with acquiring help from those who were know as unlicensed healers, such as herbalists.

Throughout the 1800s there was a major increase in lunacy. The number of ‘lunatics’ rose from 2000 in 1807 to 20,000 in 1844, and then rose again in 1890 to 86,000. By 1845 the medical profession had secured...

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