History of Explaining Abnormal Behavior

Since the beginning of time, people have attempted to explain and control unusual behavior. Our attempts to do so are always colored by the beliefs of our time. Three models have been developed over time to help people understand and explain abnormal behavior: 

  • Supernatural model/Demonology Model
  • Biological model
  • Psychological model

Supernatural model/Demonology Model: Throughout history, mental health disorders have often been viewed as a battle between good and evil. People considered the afflicted to be sick as a result of evil forces at work and believed in demonology.

Biological model: This follows the beliefs of Hippocrates. Physicians began to seek the natural causes for illness and mental health disorders.  Psychological disorders were thought to be biologically caused.

Psychological model: Philosophers like Aristotle and Plato wrote about the importance of fantasies, dreams, and thoughts. They also advocated for the humane treatment of those afflicted with mental health disorders. This model later greatly influenced modern theorists like Freud.

The Evolving Discussion About the Origins of Mental Illness Over Time

Hippocrates (460 BC to 370 BC), an ancient Greek physician, is quoted as saying, "Wherever the art of medicine is loved there is also a love of humanity." He is considered to be the father of modern medicine. He was one of the first to look at natural causes of illness rather than divine intervention or supernatural explanations. People in Hippocrates’ time assumed that illness developed in those who upset the gods. Sickness, therefore, was thought to be the result from the wrath of the gods. Hippocrates guided people away from these superstitions and to instead look for the natural causes of illness from our environment. 

Hippocrates also provided a diagnostic classification system to explain abnormal behavior. He identified common symptoms of mental health disorders such as hallucinations, delusions, depression, mania, and hysteria. Treatment at the time for those with mental health disorders involved restraints and counseling. Hippocrates believed illness can and should be prevented through lifestyle changes. Further, he taught that moderation is key to a balanced life, and focused on the concept of integrity and ethics in the field of medicine. Hippocrates felt that the patient's good should be the most important factor in treatment. 

Greek Philosophers had their say on mental health disorders, too, pushing for the psychological model to explain unusual behavior. Plato (around 428 – 347 BC) thought that mental health disorders originated from two causes: supernatural and physical illness. Aristotle (384–322 BC) rejected that notion and considered all mental health disorders to be the result of physical problems. This became an ongoing debate on whether mental health disorders were the result of a physical affliction or a spiritual problem. 

Both Aristotle and Plato stressed the importance of dreams and fantasies. They also agreed that there was great benefit in experiencing mental illness. Aristotle emphasized, "All men of genius are melancholy."  Plato also felt that madness was a gift from the gods. He explains, "Madness, provided it comes as the gift of heaven, is the channel by which we receive the greatest blessings... Madness comes from God, whereas sober sense is merely human." These symptoms of mental health disorders were seen as gifts to those who suffered because the experience of the symptoms brought about truth, insight, and a new perspective to the afflicted person. 

Around 275 BC, the Romans in Italy began expanding, conquering the surrounding areas and in 146 BC, the Romans had made Greece a province of the Roman Empire. This resulted in the Romans adopting many of the ancient Greek concepts of the mind. However, Roman leader Cicero (106 BC to 43 BC) ultimately rejected Hippocrates' theories and people followed Cicero in returning to the supernatural belief system regarding mental illness. By the time of the fall of the Roman Empire in 1453 AD, demonology dominated theories of mental illness in Europe.

The Debilitating Dark Ages to the 19th Century

Between 1460 AD and 1680 AD, more than ten thousand people who had mental health disorders, mostly women, were ruled to be witches or heretics. As a result, they were burned at the stake. Treatments at this time for those with mental health disorders also included exorcisms or shaving a cross into one's hair. 

The inhumane treatment persisted throughout the Renaissance period. However, the Renaissance period did bring new attitudes towards science. By the 18th century, asylums were founded and began housing the mentally ill. Those with mental health disorders were thrown into these asylums which had harsh conditions and they were left there indefinitely. People often visited asylums as spectators, as if these asylums were zoos and for entertainment. Still, many  people with mental health disorders were thrown into prisons where they were shackled and chained. 

The 19th century brought some improvement for those with mental health disorders. However, asylums were still widely in use where there was abuse and the treatments involved restraints and isolation. Other various dehumanizing methods for treating mental disorders in the 19th century involved 'beating the evil spirits out' of the afflicted person. They also bled the patient or drilled holes into their skulls to 'let the evil spirits out.' Families did begin to care for their afflicted relatives in their homes as an alternative to the asylums. And electric convulsive therapy (ECT), also known as electroshock therapy, was invented by two Italian psychiatrists, Ugo Cerletti and Lucio Bini. 

Finally, the Birth of Psychiatry

The 20th century witnessed the birth of psychiatry. Doctors finally began to identify and name mental health disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. They began to understand that mental health disorders were the result of an afflicted brain and not the result of supernatural causes. Doctors therefore began concentrating on the brain. They began performing therapies that included electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), insulin coma, simple sedation, and lobotomies. Lobotomies became very popular as a treatment for mental health disorders. However, later the practice of performing lobotomies was ruled inhumane and eventually ceased over time. 

In 1951, doctors serendipitously discovered the benefits of neuroleptic antipsychotic medicine on patients with psychotic disorders. These medications worked by numbing the patients. Doctors found these medicines to have a calming effect on the patient, making them indifferent to their surroundings. This greatly diminished their symptoms and allowed for relief. This was the first real breakthrough in psychiatry.

Many doctors began to prescribe these medications to their patients with very positive results. Since 1951, many medications have been developed and many have benefited from these medications, to the point of living unassisted and independently. Community support now exists in the form of out-patient facilities, allowing individuals to receive treatment without an extended hospital stay. Out-patient therapy is now commonplace for the treatment of mental health disorders.

Today, people with mental health disorders are living independent lives thanks to medicine. Asylums are no longer in practice thanks to reforms. Those with mental health disorders, once stricken to hospitals or sent to an asylum for the rest of their lives, are now recovering from their disorders. People have learned what it takes to be in mental health treatment and are therefore recovering from these once debilitating diseases. Medicine has transformed mental health treatment. Recovery from previously debilitating mental health disorders is possible when people are given the right tools, such as medications and community support. 

And of course, the Birth of the Spiritual Movement

Lately, social media is flooded with information regarding karma, spirituality, life lessons, and more. Each day, we have new spiritual coaches who want to help others find their true calling in life. There are so many choices to make in life and there are spiritual teachers everywhere it seems to help advise you. Not everyone agrees with medication and many think others should simply stay all natural, focusing on natural remedies. This is fine for some but medication can be necessary for others. It's important to acknowledge this benefit. Some health situations require medical intervention.

That being said, we are spirits having a human experience. We are evolving and learning by the second. And we have karma that needs to be healed from this lifetime and past lives. Spiritual advisors can assist us on our journey and spiritual tools such as a past life regression therapy session can bring us straight to our core for infinite healing. Spiritual tools, such as daily meditation, yoga, and healing our minds by fostering a calm, grateful mindset, are all useful to our mental health in amazing ways and we should utilize them.

We just need to remember to use discernment and think for ourselves regarding mental health treatment because in the end, we know what is best for ourselves alone. Always consult your psychiatrist, doctor, or therapist for advice regarding your mental health treatment. Your medical team understands your mental health symptoms, the medication, and other treatments. Therefore, your medical team can better assist you. 

Medicine may be necessary to learn new ways of seeing the world. Once you have mastered kindness, appreciation for life, and found your purpose, medicine can be stopped. You just need the right frame of mind and medicine can help you achieve that. Basically, controlling the ego is one of the best ways to heal from any mental illness. This can be done by realizing you are a soul and not the body. You have a purpose and that is to love others and to love yourself fully. You are not the body but a soul with a body. You are more than you realize and worth so much love. Everyone is worth love. Give love to both yourself and others and you will find your way back to hope. We are not meant to harm others but to love them. Practice love and you will find your way.

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