Mental Illness And Traditional Cures

We all know that mental illness can be incredibly debilitating, but for our predecessors in the past, a cure might have been just as bad. Back in the day, the treatment for psychiatric disorders encompassed a lot more than just popping a few pills, or pouring your heart out to your therapist. More often than not, these supposed cures left the patient in a far worse state than they were in prior to “treatment”. Due to the sheer lack of knowledge and concrete research, therapy was usually extremely painful, and rarely effective.

List Of Traditional Cures For Mental Illnesses

• Exorcisms

Before the development of modern scientific and psychological theory, mental illnesses, especially those with more severe symptoms were thought to be the result of demonic possession. There has been a long history of mistaking Satan for psychosis. The movie, The Exorcism of Emily Rose provides an interesting take on both perspectives.

According to some reports, exorcisms are still being performed on the mentally ill. It’s understandable how symptoms of certain disorders might seem like an evil entity to the orthodox or uneducated. Dissociative Identity Disorder, for instance, can cause extreme switches in personality. Individuals with schizophrenia can sometimes experience catatonia, where they can remain in distorted, contorted positions for hours. The auditory and visual hallucinations probably don’t help much either.

• Lobotomies

Lobotomies, also known as a leucotomy, were surprisingly, until recently, a very common cure for mental illnesses. It was a medical procedure, a psychosurgery, where parts of the patient’s prefrontal cortex (that’s the front part of your brain) was casually scraped away by a physician, with a sharp object. Initially, this was done by making holes in the skull, but later a more efficient, less invasive procedure was devised, where an object that resembled an ice pick was pushed up a person’s eye socket, and swished around, severing connections between the prefrontal cortex and the rest of the brain. Leucotomies were considered to be such a phenomenal treatment, that its creator, Antonio Egas Moniz, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Science. Lobotomies were great for getting rid of delusions and hallucinations, but they also left most of its recipients with decreased mental function, in a vegetative state, or dead.

• Insulin Shock Therapy 

Let’s artificially induce a coma to cure psychotic illnesses, because why not? Manfred Sakel, in 1927, was treating a schizophrenic patient who was also diabetic. Once, he accidentally administered too much insulin, but he noticed a decrease in the severity of the individual’s psychotic symptoms. He then decided to do the same with his nondiabetic patients, to see what would happen and thus insulin shock therapy was born.

Commonly used to treat schizophrenia, this form on treatment encompassed injecting the mentally ill with high doses of insulin, gradually increasing the dose everyday, with the goal to drastically reduce the amount of glucose in the body, essentially making the body goes into a state of hypoglycemic shock, one of the symptoms of which, is a coma. Physicians would induce several comas in a patient, and this could go on for months, or even years. Epileptic fits were common with this procedure and were considered to be therapeutic. To reverse the etherized state, patients would be given high doses of glucose, which can be equally dangerous. It was an extremely uncomfortable procedure. Patients would twitch, moan, convulse and profusely sweat, and require intensive attention and care. If done incorrectly, irreversible brain damage, or in some cases, death, could occur.

• The Utica Crib and other restraints 

Confinement, isolation, and restraint were popular methods used to treat mental illness, but the Utica Crib took that to the next level. Popular in the late 1800s in the United States, this device resembled a long narrow crib, with barely enough space to fit an adult. Patients, especially violent, disobedient ones, were locked up in this cage-like contraption until they calmed down. Other such methods were used, such as a restraint chair that looked more like an electric chair, where the patient’s arms would be strapped to its arms, their legs bolted to the flood, and their head covered with a hood. Handcuffs and ankle straps were also common.

• Trepanning

Trepanation is arguably the most bizarre and ineffective treatment ever developed. Probably one of the oldest methods of treating pathology, trepanning involved physically drilling a hole in a person’s skull. Scientists have found that people were drilling holes in skulls more than 7000 years ago. Depending on the era, this form of treatment was believed to either release demons trapped in the person’s body, decrease pressure or increase blood flow to the brain. Apart from mental disorders, it was used to treat a number of illnesses, including seizures, and ironically, migraines.

• Hydrotherapy

A nice long soak in the tub can be incredibly de-stressing. Cold showers are very energizing. Hydrotherapy, in the modern context, is very relaxing and can alleviate symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. Hydrotherapy in the past, however, was far from comforting. Patients were inserted into a canvas covered tub, with a hole to stick their head out. The tub was filled either with hot or cold water, depending on their disorder. They would remain in there, with their heads peeking out, for hours, or sometimes even days. Another form of hydrotherapy was to blast fully nude patients with a strong jet of water, which could prove to be painful, as well as humiliating.

• Magnets

Did you know that the word “lunatic” derives from the Latin word Luna, meaning moon? Back in the day, people used to believe that one’s mood was affected by the gravitational pull of the moon. Some people were more impacted than others, and would go insane– hence the word lunatic. Franz Mesmer believed that magnets, and placing it on various parts of the body could counteract the moon’s pull on the body’s fluids, and restore normal body function, and mood, a treatment known as mesmerism.  

• Fever therapy

Austrian psychiatrist, Julius Wagner Jauregg, was awarded a Nobel Prize for science, in the late 1920s, for back then developing a revolutionary concept known as fever therapy, and yes, it is exactly what it sounds like. The Nobel laureate was treating a woman riddled with syphilis. Syphilis, in its final stages, is known to produce psychotic symptoms. This woman developed a high fever as a result of a different infection and was momentarily cured of her psychosis. This got Jauregg thinking, which eventually led to infect his patients with all kinds of diseases, including tuberculosis and typhoid. He eventually found that malaria was the best disease to cure mental disorders. Reportedly, out of his nine test subjects, only one died. Giving a patient malaria and calling it a cure became quite common, and was used to treat bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc. This form of treatment unsurprisingly fell out of favor as the years went by.

A lot has certainly changed in the world of mental health since the time of literally drilling holes in a person’s head. We have a much clearer understanding of abnormal psychology, treatment is simple and non-invasive, and is only bound to improve in the future.

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