Friday, February 12, 2010

Mental Health...Fridays?

Dear Athenites.
...Okay okay, I know it's not Monday so it is technically not a "mental-health" day. That being said, today we looked at "Mental Illness in the Victorian Era" in one of my classes, and I found some of the information so incredibly appalling, but also really enlightening and even slightly encouraging. That is, it's good to know how things have progressed.

(Pretty much all of this information I am taking directly from my classmate's presentation. I think her name is Keisha. But unfortunately I can't give her any more credit than my best-guess at her first name. Sorry, classmate.)

Alright. So most people who have done even a bit of an analysis of history know that women have been considered "the weaker sex" for a very long time. Women were expected to be passive, dependent, sexually disinterested, angelic, ...and were essentially viewed as baby making machines. The women who did not fit this criteria, particularly in the Victorian era, were diagnosed with a severe mental illness.

By this criteria, almost all of today's women would be diagnosed as needing to be contained in an asylum.

The common belief was that mental illness was a disease of the soul...and this had to be "fixed" by doctor's methods. Accordingly, patients were kept in cages, given small amounts of [often unclean] food, had little or no clothing, wore no shoes, and slept on dirt. Let's remember....this was all because they were not meeting the societal expectation of them, not because they had showed any outward signs of something that actually required "fixing."

When some doctors began to recognise that this "mental illness" was not actually a God-given-soul-disease, but had something to do with a different structuring of the brain (---side note, let's recognise that this WAS a good step....but it was so incomplete in that they still believed women's disinterest to fill their stereotypical role as an 'illness' ) and could be treated with various other methods.

Some of the "treatment" methods that they tried for different "mental illnesses" that they diagnosed??

Well, for "nymphomanics" (women who showed were sexually-interested, [or in modern terms, horny] ) the treatment included:
separation from men, bloodletting, induced vomiting, leeches, solitary confinement, straight-jackets, and a bland diet.

(What did they hope to achieve from a bland diet? A little less "spice" and a little more "nice" ?? Good one, doctors.)

Oh, and let's not forget...desiring to be either a spinster or a lesbian (apparently the two go hand in hand according to the doctors of the day) the "treatment" included:
- forced marraiges by family members. or encouraged sexual encounters in which the "mentally-ill patients" (that is, the lesbians/spinsters) were sexually-abused or raped UNDER THE CARE OF THEIR DOCTORS.


I think it's important to recognise how far mental health has come from this time period. Specifically to realise that in Victorian times, people were labelled to be "mentally ill" simply because they did not wish to conform to society's stereotypes.

Do you think we have smacked the "mental-illness" label onto anything similiar in our current day and age?

- nadya

1 comment:

  1. Cool entry Nadya.
    Well, the content wasn't cool, but thank you for addressing this issue (which I don't really know much about). If you'd be interested, I'd love to hear more about this subject from you.