History of the Treatment of Mental Illness

  • Period: 2000 BCE to

    2000 BC to Current

  • Period: 2000 BCE to 500 BCE

    Prehistoric times

    There was little to no comprehension for why mental illness or physical disease occurred during prehistoric times. Behavior that was out of the ordinary was thought to be caused by supernatural forces. In the past, someone who exhibited symptoms of bipolar disorder may have been persecuted by religious sects who believed their behavior was the result of demonic possession.
  • Period: 500 BCE to 500

    Ancient Rome and Greece

    Ancient Rome and Greece had evolved enough to come up with a limited set of diagnoses for people who behaved abnormally. Other disorders of that era included melancholia — an early term for symptoms of depression — and dementia. Hysteria was primarily viewed as a problem that afflicted only females.
  • Period: 1401 to 1500


    Rumors began to surface regarding witchcraft. Such practices were often blamed on individuals who engaged in deviant behaviors. Acts of insanity were often attributed to possession by Satan. There was no interest in treating individuals who appeared to be afflicted. Instead, it was thought that death would be the only thing that would spare their souls. Exorcisms were cast in the form of physical reprimands in hopes that Satan would find a physically injured body less hospitable for possession.
  • Period: 1501 to

    16th Century

    Mental illness began to take on many forms and gained more widespread acknowledgement in the 16th century. Townspeople feared it, poets and playwrights wrote about it, and those who were accused of it suffered in prison. The mentally ill were viewed as being loose cannons and a risk to society, so they were generally locked up against their will.
  • Period: to

    17th Century

    There were some improvements made in the 17th century. The mentally ill were seen as not being rational enough or of sound mind, so decisions and their overall care were left to friends or relatives. Private madhouses started to spring up during the late 1600s that served to house multiple patients of mental illness, much in the way a community living facility would today.
  • Period: to

    18th Century

    More asylums made their way into American during the 18th century. Mental illness was beginning to be viewed in a different light – one set apart from criminals and the poor. However, this new light wasn’t entirely favorable, and most with mental health disorders were viewed as being weak-willed or lacking good character. Those who were unfortunate enough to be labeled as insane were often imprisoned and still believed to be controlled by demonic possession.
  • Period: to

    19th Century

    One of the biggest movements in the field of mental health treatment came in 1841 when Dorothea Dix, a Boston teacher, visited a local jail and was appalled at the sight of the living conditions forced upon the mentally ill population. Her subsequent lobbies for fairer treatment of these individuals led to the opening of 110 more psychiatric care facilities by 1880.
  • Period: to

    20th Century

    The 1900s brought a great amount of strife to the mentally ill, but also a lot of forward progress in rehabilitating mental health disorders. New treatment approaches were invasive, painful, and deadly. Countermeasures to control the mentally ill population were far from what we would call fair today. Eugenics and frontal lobotomies
  • Period: to

    2000 to Today

    When the recession hit American in 2009, federal budgeting cut $4.35 billion from public mental health spending through 2012. This would lead to further declines in treatment availability. In 2004, the lifetime rate of mental health treatment for convicted criminals was 31.2 percent. In 2015, 56 percent of state prisoners, 45 percent of federal inmates, and 64 percent of jail inmates suffer from a mental health disorder.