Societies’ Views on Mental Illness

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Societies’ Views on Mental Illness
Societies have been dealing with social issues throughout history. Whether it has been social class, civil rights, tradition, or religious conflict, societies have been trying to either over come the issues or change them all together. One social issue, in particular, that societies of been trying to deal with is people having some sort of mental illness. Historians, researchers, and psychiatrists, such as Karl Menninger, can date cases of mental illness in India from when “the Children of Israel were still in Egypt and the Greeks [were] three hundred years away from their Trojan exploit” and after a millennium, a case of witchcraft emerged in 1489 (16). Often times people see mental illness as something horrible or as some sort of embarrassment to have to encounter, but little do they know that sometimes it is society itself that causes some cases of mental illness. Societies need to learn the history of mental illness, how it has been treated throughout history, and how they should actually be treating people with mental illnesses.

In ancient times, people had assumed that supernatural powers were part of anything and everything, and when it came to someone having a mental illness, people believed it was caused by “demons and spirits that had taken possession of the person’s mind and body” (Zimbardo, Johnson, and McCann, 533). It wasn’t until about 400 B.C.E. when humanity took its first step towards the scientific approach of classifying or treating mental illness with Hippocrates, a Greek physician (Zimbardo, Johnson, and McCann, 533). Hippocrates stated that mental illness is an “imbalance among the four body fluids called ‘humors’: blood, phlegm (mucus), black bile, and yellow bile” (Zimbardo, Johnson, and McCann, 533). His idea that mental illnesses had natural causes, not supernatural ones, was very simple, but incredibly revolutionary; for example, according to Hippocrates, people who had more black bile were more prone to depression, while people who had more blood were warmhearted (Zimbardo, Johnson, and McCann, 533). With this concept, Hippocrates integrated mental disorder into medicine, and this inspired people until the end of the Roman Empire (Zimbardo, Johnson, and McCann, 533).

However, in the Middle Ages, thanks to the influence of the medieval Church, superstition overpowered the Hippocratic model there once was (Zimbardo, Johnson, and McCann, 533). Physicians and clergy were told to go back to the old ways of explaining certain abnormalities in terms of witchcraft and demons. Society then believed that people who had unusual behavior was the work of the devil and there were attempts to “drive out the demons that possessed the unfortunate victims soul” (Zimbardo, Johnson, and McCann, 533). Due to that mentality, thousands of people who had a mental illness were being tortured and executed all across Europe (Zimbardo, Johnson, and McCann, 533). With that same mindset, the first case of witchcraft was reported in 1489 (Menninger, 16). Accusations of witchcraft continued for over two hundred years, as epitomized in a young colony in Salem, Massachusetts. Society would accuse individuals of witchcraft, find him/her guilty, and would have him/her executed (Zimbardo, Johnson, and McCann, 533). The mention of witchcraft is also in books or plays, such as Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible”. Miller’s four act play is set in early 1692 in the “Puritan New England town of Salem, Massachusetts” (Sparknotes Editors). Miller states that the play is “not history in the sense in which the word is used by the academic historian … however, I believe the reader will discover here the essential nature of one of the strangest and most awful chapters in human history” (345). In “The Crucible”, “Reverend Parris’ daughter Betty, falls into a coma-like state” and because there can be no medicinal practice to be found to treat Betty, rumors of a collection of girls performing witchcraft are...
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