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The History, Origin, Types, Misconceptions and Treatment of Mental Diseases

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Mental Illness Research Paper

Many people have a mild range of knowledge on the topic of mental illness; however, some may not know that, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness in a given year. Mental illnesses, also known as mental disorders, can seriously affect one’s life, whether it is severe or minor. There is an extensive range of severity and types of mental disorders. Some of the major types are depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar mood disorder, personality disorders, trauma and eating disorders (Department of Health and Human Services). Over the course of history, understanding of such illnesses has been constantly progressing and being reshaped by new discoveries. Since every mental illness has a different affect on social life, behavior, and everyday lifestyle, it is a very serious topic that much time and investigation has been invested into it. Although not everyone is educated upon the subject, through research there is much information to be learned about the history, effects and symptoms, as well as misconceptions about mental disorders.

The way in which society has approached mental illness over the years has continued to progress, as well as the way in which those who are affected by one are treated. In ancient Egyptian, Indian, Greek, and Roman writings, mental illness was categorized as a religious or personal problem (Unite For Site, Module 2). During the Middle Ages, the mental illnesses were believed to be religious punishment or demonic possession. Negative attitudes towards mental illness continued into the Colonial age in the United States, leading to stigmatization of mental illness, and unhygienic, often degrading confinement of mentally ill individuals. At the time, American society referred to those suffering from mental illnesses as “lunatics” and locked away and isolated them (Leupo 1). There were limited treatments at the time, those of which were based around the idea of catharsis. Treatments, such as submerging patients in ice baths until they lost consciousness, executing a massive shock to the brain, inducing vomiting, and the removal of one’s “bad blood”, were very unsafe, rarely improved the patient’s health and often resulted in death. Despite these practices resulting in death, the Colonials were satisfied because it removed the mentally ill, “lunatics”, from society (Leupo 1).

According to the Association for Natural Psychology, William Tuke, founded the moral management movement, a humane and effective non-pharmaceutical approach to treating serious mental illness in the early 1800s. The focus was on practicality, self-discipline and positive human interactions, as well as attention to the spiritual needs of the individual. The “insane” came to be regarded as normal people who had lost their reason as a result of having been exposed to severe psychological and social stress. These stresses were called the moral causes of insanity, and moral treatment aimed at relieving the patient by friendly association, discussion of his difficulties, and the daily pursuit of purposeful activity” (Carson, 307). The stigma on the mentally ill began to shift from them being harmful to society, to innocent people who just need special protection and care. This shift in perspective lead to the use of therapy as treatment for those affected, opposed to prior inhuman practices.

William Tuke prompted research into the care of patients in asylums after the death of a woman in the York Asylum, for the mentally ill in England, died presumably from neglect or mistreatment (Association for Natural Psychology). The first mental hospital in the United States exclusively for the purpose of treating the mentally ill opened in October 1773 in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. As a result of Tuke’s moral management movement, emphasized kindness, firm but gentle encouragement to self-control, work therapy, and leisure activity became the new approach to assisting patients in asylums and all over the world (Association for Natural Psychology). Improvements in asylum care continued in America and Europe, although sub-par conditions persisted in numerous American and European institutions.

Many countries around the world were also slow, or failed completely, to implement sufficient reforms; asylums in Nigeria, Africa were not even established until 1906. When asylums were finally established, the conditions were less than pleasant. There were dark, overcrowded cells, a lack of basic supplies, poor bathing facilities, and the use of chains to restrain patients. Very little treatment was offered to help the patients with their mental illnesses with the exception of minimal occupational therapy and agricultural work as well as the administration of sedatives to keep patients calm and under control (Foerschner, 3-4). In the 1930s to 1950s, psychosurgery became widely practiced when electroconvulsive therapy was not sucessful. To execute this procedure, the patient was first shocked into a coma.

The surgeon then hammered an instrument similar to an icepick through the top of each eye socket and severed the nerves connecting the frontal lobes to the emotion-controlling centers of the inner brain. It was only after tens of thousands of patients worldwide had undergone this procedure during the following twenty years that people started to take notice of its undesirable side effects. This practice was quickly abandoned with the introduction of psychoactive drugs (Foerschner, 4). Approaches towards mental illnesses and their treatment has been continually evolving. Nowadays, the mentally ill are commonly treated with therapy and or medications. Also, People with mental health issues are placed in high regards with their societal standings.

Mental illnesses are of different types and degrees of severity, and will affect everyone differently. The most common mental illnesses are anxiety and depressive disorders. Though most everyone experiences strong feelings of tension, anxiety, or sadness at times, a mental illness is present when these feelings become so disturbing and overwhelming that people have great difficulty with daily life. Things such as work, enjoying leisure time, and maintaining relationships become much more difficult; in the most extreme cases, one may not be able to get out of bed or care for themselves physically. “Mental health and physical health are closely connected. Mental health plays a major role in people’s ability to maintain good physical health. Mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, affect people’s ability to participate in health-promoting behaviors. In turn, problems with physical health, such as chronic diseases, can have a serious impact on mental health and decrease a person’s ability to participate in treatment and recovery” (Healthy People).

Less common are mental illnesses that may involve psychosis. These include schizophrenia and bipolar mood disorder. People experiencing a minor episode of psychosis have a false perception of reality and and lose touch with what is considered normal. This takes a serious toll on their ability to make sense of thoughts, feelings, and the world around. Delusions, such as false beliefs of persecution, guilt may be involved. As well as, hallucinations, where the person sees, hears, smells, or tastes things that are not there. Psychotic episodes can threaten and confuse other people, such behavior is difficult to understand for people who are not familiar with it. Bipolar disorder is characterized by shifts in mood as well as changes in activity and energy levels. The disorder involves experiencing shifts between elevated moods and periods of depression, mania or hypomania. People with anxiety disorders have excessive and abnormal fear, worry, anxiety and related behavioral disturbances.

Anxiety involves the anticipation that a future threat may arise; with this anticipation, one might endure an anxiety attack, which have various effects. People with certain types of anxiety disorder may not be able to leave the house, or may have compulsive habits to help them ease their fears. Research done by The Kim Foundation, shows that approximately 40 million American adults ages 18 and older, or about 18.1 percent of people in this age group in a given year, have an anxiety disorder. Trauma disorders involve previous exposure to a stressful or traumatic event. Those who experience these, can be put into a state of shock or be set-off by things related to their traumatic event. Eating disorders are characterized by obsessive concerns with weight and disruptive eating patterns that negatively impact physical and mental health. Types of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder, and several others (Cherry, 1).

There are many misconceptions surrounding mental illnesses, just as there are with many things at such a degree of complexity. Lack of proper education, i.e. being informed false or misleading information, or simply inadequate understanding of these disorders can cause false perceptions about them. These fallacies can create hurtful or offensive connotations towards those who are affected. One very common stigma is that mental illnesses are “made up” diseases, created in the head’s of people with personality weaknesses or character flaws, and that if one tried hard enough, they could “snap out of it”. Along with that, it can be thought that therapy and self-help are ineffective and a waste of time; in order to actually be cured, pills are the only solution. Not only is it believed that therapy and self-help are useless, some also believe that there is no way for them to help someone mentally ill. People with mental health problems are thought to be hopeless in terms of recovering or receiving help from others. Another false understanding is that anyone with a mental illness is essentially “handicapped” in certain aspects, such as being able to manage the stress of maintaing a job. Unfortunately, it can also be thought that people with mental health problems are violent and unpredictable.

All of these misconceptions about mental disorders can cause society to fear and/or look down upon the mentally ill. Therefore, in order for disregard these fallacies, it is crucial to provide information to contradict them. In actuality, mental health problems have nothing to do with being lazy or weak and many people need help to get better. Many factors contribute to mental health problems, including biological factors, life experiences, and family history of mental health illnesses. Genes, physical illness, injury, brain chemistry, trauma or a history of abuse can all play a role in mental health problems, not weaknesses and character flaws. Also, treatment varies depending on the individual and could include medication, therapy, or both; pills are not the only solution. Those suffering from mental illnesses often do not receive the treatment they need, only 41% of adults in the U.S. with a mental health condition received mental health services in the past year (National Alliance on Mental Illness); however, friends and family can be important influences to help someone get adequate treatment and services. Other people can help the mentally ill, and even be a big influence in helping them recover.

Reaching out and letting them know help is available, learning and sharing the facts about mental health, treating them with respect, and just providing support are all ways someone can help. “Research carried out at the National Empowerment Center has shown that people can fully recover from even the most severe forms of mental illness. In-depth interviews of people diagnosed with schizophrenia have shown that these people are capable of regaining significant roles in society and of running their own lives” (Daniel Fisher and Laurie Ahern, 1). That being said, those who are mentally ill are not hopeless or incapable of recovering. Additionally, people with mental health problems are just as productive as other employees. Employers who hire people with mental health problems report good attendance and punctuality as well as motivation, good work, and job tenure on par with or greater than other employees (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).

Just because someone has a mental illness, does not mean they are violent or unpredictable; in fact, “most people with mental illness are not violent and only 3%-5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness” (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). Actually, “people with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population” (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). There are, more than likely, other misconceptions towards mental disorders; however, these were a few common ones, along with clarifications on what is actually true.

Mental illnesses affect many people, whether it is directly or someone they know. Yet, people often fall short on their level of knowledge upon the subject. It is very important to know proper information on such a serious topic. Both major and minor cases of mental disorders should be handled with care and understanding. Although not everyone is educated upon the subject, through research there is much information to be learned about the history, effects and symptoms, as well as misconceptions about mental disorders.

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