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Treatment of the Mentally Ill

Get sources on the treatment and conditions of the mentally ill in American history.

The Mentally Ill in the United States

The nineteenth century was a time of profound changes in the diagnosis and definition of mental illness, in the treatment and placement of those people categorized as mentally ill, and in the organization and professionalization of individuals caring for and treating the mentally ill. The issues surrounding mental illness were closely related to the significant adjustments being made as the United States moved from a rural, agricultural nation to an industrial, urban one. Far from being a static medical category, mental illness was a rapidly changing set of social problems, tied to attempts to cope with dizzying societal change. In 1800 Americans generally considered disorders of the mind an inescapable though unfortunate part of community life, and churches, public almshouses, and poorhouses treated persons exhibiting behaviors associated with mental illness as charity cases. Manifestations of bizarre mental behavior were handled almost exclusively at the local level, often by family members. By 1900, however, almost every facet of this situation had changed. By that time mental illness was seen as a discrete category of medical problem usually caused by organic brain diseases. Medical doctors specializing in mental disorders formed their own professional organizations and provided the expertise to diagnose and treat mental illness. People classified with these diseases were often placed in large congregate institutions or asylums, where they could possibly be cured and released, meanwhile protecting society from the problems they caused.

Read the rest of the story on CREDO Mental Illness (login with your COM account for off campus access).

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