History and evolution of mental disorders
Ancient world – Era of superstitions
In ancient times, mental patients were considered to be in possession of evil spirits. The treatment for possession was exorcism, or the removal of evil through counter-magic. These practices still prevail in many parts of the world including India and western countries.
Atharva-veda has the oldest written documentation about mental disorders. It describes three mental gunas i.e. Sattva, Rajas & Tamas. Different psychological disorders are believed to occur due to excess of Tamas guna. Detailed description & treatment of various disorders such as Manastap (anxiety), Bhaya (fear), etc. are found in it. Bhagavad-Gita is probably the first recorded evidence of crisis intervention psychotherapy.
In ancient Greece (800 B.C), abnormal behaviour was intercepted as punishment for offences against gods. The treatment took place in temples of Asclepius, the God of healing.
Hippocrates (460 - 377 B.C.) stressed that mental disorders were caused by brain dysfunction. He described epilepsy and concluded that it was due to diseased brain.
Plato (427 - 347 B.C) saw behaviour as a product of totality of psychological processes. He believed that disturbed behaviour grew out of conflicts between emotion and reason.
Galen (130 - 200 A.D.), a Greek physician, taught that psychological characteristics were expressions of bodily processes influenced by a balance of the four humors - blood, black bile, yellow bile & phlegm.
The Middle ages
During the middle age, contrasting views of mental illness existed.
Saint Augustine (354 - 430 A.D), laid the basis for modern psychodynamic theories of abnormal behaviour. He wrote about feelings, mental anguish and human conflict.
Johann Weyer (1525 - 1588), a German physician, emphasised psychological conflicts and disturbed interpersonal relationships as causes of mental disorders. He argued for clinical treatment for the mentally ill rather than religious harassment.
William Cullen coined the term ‘neurosis’ in 1777 replacing, ‘illness of nerves’ and meaning any disease of the nervous system without a known organic basis.
Sigmund Freud (1856 - 1939) propounded that psychological factors played an important role in the causation of mental disorders. He also highlighted the role of social and cultural factors in causing mental disorders.
By Dr Dushyant Kamal Dhari M.D.(Hom).