History of Mental Health

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During the colonial period, through the eighteenth century, neither pauperism nor insanity was a critical problem in society. The mentally ill were considered to be one of several classes of dependent citizens. The colonies accepted the English principle that it was the responsibility of local communities to care for their own and subsequently to the church and local government. Since colonial society was predominately rural, deviant behavior was largely tolerated. In sparsely settled areas, persons who broke social rules could easily keep to themselves. Wealthier families kept their deranged members in attics or cellars and hired private attendants. Demented individuals who were not dangerous wandered about and generally were 'warned out' of town so they would not become a local responsibility. Those who were violent were thought possessed by the devil, and they were whipped, shackled in the market place, or kept in outside pens despite the weather. Boston established almshouse in 1662 in which the poor, the aged, the blind, the insane, idiots, and orphans were confined together.

The first law for the treatment of the mentally ill was passed in Massachusetts in 1676, ordering select men to provide care and protect the community from them. Some built work houses in which the individual's greeting was ten lashes (Deutsch, 1949).

The scientific spirit however, was prominent in the United States as well as in Europe. The Pennsylvania Hospital opened a ward for lunatics in 1752, albeit in the basement. Although there were attempts to treat patients medically, some of the treatment of the day, purging, blistering the skin, bleeding, and other shock tactics, appear rather punitive from a modern perspective. The first colony-wide mental hospital was built in 1769 in Virginia, but most communities simply sectioned off rooms from other institutions; for example (Grob, 1973). These asylums became training...