This week is Mental Illness Awareness Week. Okay, let’s get aware. Following is a random traverse through history:
790,000 BC, give or take a few years - Discovery of fire. Anyone crazy enough to take a burning tree into their cave and find a practical application had to have been dealing with bipolar. So, you nonbipolars out there, listen up: We give you the gift of civilization, and how do you thank us? That’s right. You marginalize us. (By the way, sorry we couldn’t get fire to you sooner.)
2000 BC - Ancient Egyptians view mental illness symptoms as physical, caused by disorders of the heart.
400 BC - Hippocrates and fellow ancient Greeks explain physical and mental illness in terms of “the four humors.” Melancholia literally means “black bile,” a condition Aristotle assigns to Socrates. Later, Galen refines the humors into “temperaments.” Bottom line: Mental illness is considered biological.
Second century AD - Aretaeus of Cappadocia links mania to melancholia, thus effectively identifying bipolar.
410 AD - Alaric and his Visigoths sack Rome. Dark Ages officially begin. Christian belief interprets mental illness as a sign of divine punishment or Satanic possession. This “fault principle” permeates treatment of the mentally ill to this very day.
Middle Ages - One of the treatments for mental illness includes drilling holes in the skull to allow evil spirits to escape.
1242 - The Order of Mary of Bethlehem establishes a shelter for the insane in London, referred to as “Bedlam.”
1492 - Christopher Columbus has a crazy idea and sails to the New World. To nonbipolars: We introduce to you to the concept of America, and how do you thank us? Yeh, right. (Sorry we couldn’t find it for you sooner.)
1512 - After four years, Michelangelo finishes the ceiling to the Sistine Chapel. To nonbipolars: We bring you the arts and how do you thank us? (Sorry he didn’t get the job done faster.)
1687 - Isaac Newton publishes “The Principia.” To nonbipolars: We bring you modern science and how do you thank us? (Sorry you were weren’t smart enough to come up with gravity on your own.)
1750-early 1800s - Enlightenment beliefs include the novel idea that we can better our own condition, morally, socially, spiritually, and materially - that we do not necessarily have to die in the same state that we were born.
1840s - Dorothea Dix agitates for better treatment of the mentally ill in the US. The asylums of the day are beautiful buildings in pastoral settings with farms attached, and are based on the enlightened principle of placing patients in a nurturing environment and treating them with dignity. Only later do these same asylums become chambers of horrors.
1844 - Establishment of the American Psychiatric Association, an outgrowth of the enlightened ethos of the day.