chapter  1
13 Pages

Possession—containment—tolerance?

In this chapter some account will be given of the history of the treatment of the mentally ill and of public attitudes that have influenced such treatment. There are available references to the treatment of persons we would describe today as mentally ill and of the manifestations of mental illness from very early times. An ancient Egyptian papyrus (circa 1500 BC) describes senility in the following brief, but accurate terms: ‘The heart grows heavy and remembers not yesterday.’ In this description we have two of the components of senile illness, namely the wasting physical process of old age, and the psychological component of memory loss. The ‘shamans’ (priests-cum-magicians) of early cultures used a process known as trephining (making small holes in the skull) to let out the devil spirits of those thought to be possessed. It is interesting to compare this ancient practice with the modern surgical treatment of some forms of mental disorder, in which fine probes are inserted in the frontal part of the skull. There are many references to the use of drugs for the treatment of mental illness in ancient times, for example Hellebore, which had been found useful in curing certain diseases in goats. The family too, was reminded of its responsibilities. Thus in Plato’s Republic, we find the following comments. ‘If anyone is insane, let him not be seen S.S. B openly in the city, but, let the relations of such a person watch over him in the best manner they know of, and if they are negligent, let them pay a fine.’