Mental Health Then Vs Now


The treatment for people with a mental illness has changed over the years, along with the attitude towards those who suffer with mental health issues. Although many people still face discrimination, stereotyping and social stigma today.
The first recorded asylum in Europe was the Bethlem Royal Hospital, London and the first mentally ill patient was admitted in 1407. Before that those classed ‘insane’ would be seen by non-licensed practitioners, they ran madhouses and cared very little for the person who came to receive care.

When the Madhouse Act 1774 came into force, those who had asylums were required to have a license to house the ‘insane’ and have yearly inspections.

In the first part of the 20th century those with a mental illnesses would be housed in large asylums which were normally in isolated rural areas. Of course people had other names for these places like “Lunatic asylum” or “The nut house”.  The institutions provided long time care and would house people with a variety of mental problems.  Some other reasons, that just don’t sound right to us in this day and age, were also catered for.  For example if you had a child out-of-wedlock or if you had learning disability. Could you imagine how full these asylums would be if we still used them now and for those reasons? Separating a mother from their child just because she isn’t married? The reasons for these actions were due to religious belief, but at the time the mothers would usually end up with some sort of mental illness due to the trauma that they encountered.

Being a patient in one of these places most likely wasn’t that pleasant, before the 20th century asylums, male and females were in total segregation. When the age came that males and females could mix, they still slept in separate wards. Privacy wasn’t that great and personal space was very limited partly because up to 50 patients could be housed in a single ward. Patients were to take part in work and recreational activities, art, music and dancing seemed to be beneficial to them. Connecting with the outside world wasn’t introduced until the times closer to the asylums closing.

You may know someone who has a mental illness and you may be aware of the treatment they receive, but the treatment that was given during the use of asylums was to just keep the patients occupied and if needed to restrain them.  There was very little knowledge and understanding of mental illness so at the time this was all they could do.

The first treatments to be used were General Paralysis of the insane and Deep Insulin Therapy. In the 1930’s they introduced a treatment called Electroconvulsive Therapy, this involved a current passing through the brain to induce an epileptic fit. Electroconvulsive Therapy was very effective for those who suffered with depression, in very rare cases it is still used today. The first drug to be used in psychiatric treatment was Chlorpromazine, which was the first antipsychotic to be developed. The use of drugs grew and more became available to be used in a patients treatment, in time they used methods of talking through a patients problems.

Today we have more of an understanding of mental illnesses, although some people still misunderstand what it means to have certain conditions. Schizophrenia is one of these, and until recently I didn’t fully understand what it was about. Most people think it means you have a split personality and that the bad voice tells you to be violent. In fact those with schizophrenia are more of a danger to themselves than to others, they also do not always have split or multiple personalities, (these are rare cases). The majority of people only know what they know due to how the media portray certain illnesses and from what they have heard from their friends and family. My advice to anyone is always do your research, there are many useful websites that explain mental health illnesses.

Today people can receive the treatment in their own homes and can receive the support they need to manage day-to-day life. There are teams of community based mental health nurses, out-patient appointments with psychiatrist, support workers and of course drugs can be taken within your own home. There are still hospitals that treat people as in-patients, who for whatever reason have been sectioned or self admitted and there are also residential homes.  These can house a group of people who may need extra support to live and help with managing medicines and their finances.

It is safe to say the care that is given today has changed dramatically over the years, and hopefully will continue to change to improve the care given. I hope that the attitudes people have towards those with mental ill-health become more positive and that they stop discriminating and judging those without any knowledge of the person or their illness.

For anyone who is dealing with or knows someone who is dealing with a mental illness you can find more information and advice on the following websites.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

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