Just like physical health, mental health has a significant impact on our well-being, and especially among youth, which has been an increasingly prevalent concern. Two hundred years ago, mental illness was not an ailment that drew much sympathy from the public. To those who were mentally ill in the Western world, specifically Britain, and her colonies, were ostracized and isolated.

In ancient times, early beliefs about what the West now classifies as “mental illness” centered on the idea that victims were possessed by evil spirits. Which made treatments for these sorts of ailments involved the use of amulets apparently imbued with magical powers.  As the Christian Church gained institutional power, many individuals who used various folk remedies began to be labelled as unorthodox and became associated with witchcraft.

Asylums gained popularity as buildings where the “insane” could be nursed back to health and replaced “mad-houses,” which were institutions that functioned as prisons and showed little regard for patients quality of life. This perspective assumed that mental illness was something purely physical and, presumably, curable like physical ailments.

Brief History Timeline:

Pre-history (eg Stone Age) Trepanning (drilling holes in the skull) is used to get rid of evil spirits.

Approx. 400 BCE Hippocrates treats mental illness as a problem of the body rather than a punishment sent by the gods.

1377 CE Opening of the Bethlem Royal Hospital in London, also known as ‘Bedlam’.

1600s Chains, shackles and imprisonment are largely used to restrain and control the mentally ill.

1850s Asylums built.

1870s Normal ovaries are removed to treat ‘mental madness’ and ‘hysterical vomiting’ in some women.

Today, the best tool we have for attempting any large scale changes in the way we view and talk about mental health is education. Although stigma, fear, and subhuman treatment coloured discussions and practices in past centuries, many present-day initiatives in support of individuals with mental illness are rooted in compassion.

In this episode Jake discusses and takes us back in history, to understand how and why mental illness is stigmatized. 

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