Medical and Science

The Unorthodox Methods for Curing Mental Illness

Athens State Mental Hospital- TB Ward by gb_packards, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic LicensePhoto by  gb_packards

Mental illness is an unfortunate factor of human life. There are multiple degrees of what many people believe to be mental “illness”, some may be correct, some not so correct. But the fact remains, conditions of the human mind are quite a mystery and often misunderstood. Throughout the centuries there have been many strange and unusual methods of “curing” mental illness, most are quite inhuman. This post is going to take a dive into history and we’ll discuss some of the methods that have been used in hopes of finding a miracle cure for the things that afflict the mind.

Cures for Mental Illness in the 1600s

During the 1600s medical cures were quite raw and barbaric. There weren’t many advances in medicine, but there were many home remedies so to speak. Curing mental illnesses of course took a closer route to experimentation and trials. A Belgian physician and chemist by the name of Dr. Van Helmont thought that by dunking his patients in water and leaving them almost to the point of drowning would cure what he called a, “too violent and exorbitant form of fiery life.” The way he discovered this cure was quite scary…

He discovered this by dragging a person from the water that had drowned, and had been dead for a while. He then shoved a dagger sheath, with the tip cut off, up their back side and blew air through it until water spilled out of their mouth. He believed they awoke with a better understanding of themselves.

So he felt this would be a logical means to carry out treatment in order to bring his patients back to reality. This is by no doubt extremely sick, and there’s no way this could possibly work. I’m sure if any of us woke after being dead for a while we wouldn’t be too hard to deal with either.

Cures for Mental Illness in the 1700s

In the 1700s, an American physician named Dr. Willard ran an asylum where he also implemented Dr. Helmont’s methods. But he had a specially made tank to administer his dunking. The patient was actually enclosed in a coffin like box with holes in it. It was then lowered into the tank. His patients were kept submerged until they nearly drowned. Upon bringing them back up, they would then be revived. And amazingly, their illness would magically disappear. Of course any appearance of being cured was probably due to them going into shock!

Cures for Mental Illness in the 1800s

By this time, new advances in the psychological field no longer included the drowning of patients. Instead a Dr. Benjamin Rush believed his patients could have their illnesses shaken out of them. He devised a system with a cage attached to a pulleys. The cage would then be spun around and around for hours on end. Of course eventually the patient would become sick from spinning and vomit. The nausea was too overwhelming, as it would be for anyone. Upon completing the treatment, the patients would appear less manic. Not to mention how pale and sick looking they would be. Dr. Rush’s theory on this, was that the spinning would decrease blood flow to the brain, lower pulse rate and relax the muscles. Plus he believed the vomiting would lead to healthier blood circulation.

Cures for Mental Illness in the 1900s

Here’s one I heard about on TV the other night while watching the show Ghost Hunters. Another American doctor, Henry Cotton, he believed that by removing infected body parts you could eliminate the mental illness. His own words, “The insane are physically ill.” He would begin his treatment by pulling out the teeth one at a time. Monitoring the patient in between teeth. If he ran out of teeth and the patient didn’t seem to be cured, he would then proceed in removing organs from their bodies.

Organs such as stomach, gall bladder, intestines, spleen and tonsils. Of course it’s no surprise that most of his patients died during treatment. At one point the doctor himself became mentally ill, so he had his own teeth removed and then returned to work! It is said that by his retirement in 1930, he had ordered over 10,000 teeth to be pulled from his patients mouths. Ironically enough, he is acclaimed as being a pioneer in the medical profession.

Modern medicine still doesn’t know exactly what causes mental illness but research shows the majority of cases are caused by a combination of biological, psychological and environmental factors. An abnormal balance of chemicals in the brain has been attributed to many forms of mental illness. This diagnosis is generally directed toward neurotransmitters, which help nerve cells in the brain pass messages to each other. Evidently if the chemicals in the brain, namely serotonin, are out of balance, then the messages firing through the brain may not reach the correct receptors, which can lead to signs of mental illness. Today most doctors simply prescribe anti-depressants to increase serotonin levels in the brain.
Modern medicine has sure come a long way and thank God for that! It’s so very bizarre how the mysteries of the human body can lead to complete madness when misunderstood. Sounds to me like it was the doctors with the mental illnesses, not the patients!

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