Tag Archives: causes of insanity

Interesting Cases

Alienists Could Be Prominent Public Figures

Alienists Could Be Prominent Public Figures

Alienists (psychiatrists) wanted to provide good care for the insane in their midst, and in the early years offered assistance primarily¬† through therapeutic stays at insane asylums. These doctors’ favored regimens of rest, occupational therapy, and structured time probably served many patients well, but such programs could not help everyone. Alienists were still exploring the causes and treatments of insanity, and some of their thoughts missed the mark widely.

In an 1871 paper on mental disease (reported in the Transactions of the Medical Society of the State of North Carolina), the author described a “case of violent cerebral excitement” in a 5-year-old, which had been relieved by an oral dose of bromide of potassium. This case of “mental disease” seems to be clearly a case of epilepsy, and we can only wonder if the child was tagged for life as insane.

Another paper in the same publication discussed “Mania Transitoria,” or insanity of very short duration. During this type of mania, people could be fully aware of their surroundings (or not) and actions. It was brought on by such things as physical disease or the “accumulation of harbored feelings over a number of years.” The author seems to be describing explosions of temper or momentary passionate outbursts, but he attributed this type of insanity’s cause–or attributed it at least in part–to masturbation and petit mal epilepsy.

Craig Colony for Epileptics, courtesy museumofdisability.org

Craig Colony for Epileptics, courtesy museumofdisability.org

Cures For Epilepsy Were Plentiful

Cures For Epilepsy Were Plentiful

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Sorrow, Vice, and Thyroids

Many Physicians Believed Insanity Stemmed from Physical Causes

Some of the new ideas about insanity and ways to prevent it helped doctors believe in cures after a long period in which they had resigned themselves to believing that most insanity was chronic.

An article from the November 12, 1922 edition of The Washington Post quoted Dr. Toulouse, a renowned French alienist, who had founded the League for Mental Hygiene and Prophylaxis. He believed that “half the occupants of the world’s insane asylums are not mad, but diseased.” Continue reading

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Slow to Change

Western North Carolina Insane Asylum

Early alienists knew little about why a person became insane, but they were always willing to guess. The superintendent of Western North Carolina Insane Asylum reported on the causes for admission to the facility in 1888. They included: the Civil War, disappointment, jealousy, menstrual irregularity, nostalgia, and political excitement. In 1908, the same asylum listed these causes for admission: brooding over sin, cigarette smoking, climacteric worry, desire to marry, ear disease, fear of child-birth, fear of pregnancy, fright, and hard work and nose bleed.

We seem to be living in more enlightened times, but today’s psychiatric profession has its own absurdities. The current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists “caffeine-induced sleep disorder” and “mathematics disorder” as valid mental illnesses. Their list has risen from 265 recognized disorders in 1980 to 365 today.

Insane Asylum, Phoenix, Arizona

Patient in an Insane Asylum, photographed by Dr. Hugh Welch (Britain)

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