How Mental Illness Was Viewed Historically

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5. A friend is very worried about the stigma attached to receiving psychological treatment. To give your friend some perspective, describe how mental illness has been viewed historically, and what effect these views have had on the treatment of the mentally ill.

Mental illness has not always been as widely accepted as it is today. It took some time for psychological and humane treatments to settle into the minds of those who were considered normal. Today there is hardly as much of a stigma attached to mental disorders as there used to be. Animism was a belief that everyone had a soul, which many people believed in pre-modern times. Explanations to those with mental disorders were attributed to evil spirits that would enter a person for a number of reasons and possess the body and soul. To get rid of these unwanted “inhabitants”, spiritual practices and magic rituals were used to expel the spirits. It was normal to ask a witch for spells and potions to cure their illnesses or other problems. But when witchcraft was no longer tolerable to the public, suspected witches were beginning to be put on trial in the middle ages, and many were found guilty of witchcraft and executed for it.

Along with animism, people also attributed mental illness to physical causes, not just spiritual ones. Hysteria was a common illness that seemed to occur mostly in widowed or single women. There were many symptoms, some including body pains, paralysis, headaches and blindness. The Greeks thought this disorder came about because of a wandering uterus. Eventually it became accepted that hysteria would occur after long periods of sexual abstinence in both males and females, when it was discovered that the uterus itself was not a living creature.

It was also a common belief at one point that those who were mad were similar to animals. They could not control their behavior, and they didn’t act like regular people or respond to normal stimuli. This belief was called animalism,...
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