Thursday, January 08, 2004

Hippocrates the first to understand causes of mental illness

"The ancient Greeks viewed mental illness as the work of good or bad spirits: If someone’s disturbance appeared to be mystical and mild, with pleasant overt symptoms, such as the ones witnessed in the schizoaffective disorder, manic type, then the ancient Greeks believed that such patients were possessed by ‘good’ spirits. On the other hand, they were thought to be possessed by ‘bad spirits’ if they manifested dark moods or showed a markedly diminished interest in everyday life, as in the case of the depressive type of the schizoaffective disorder."

"The Egyptians and the Hebrews held similar views. The ‘visitations’ of ‘good spirits’ were viewed with respect and admiration and the patients were treated accordingly. And the ‘visitations’ of the ‘bad spirits’ were thought to be ‘disturbances’. Some very unpleasant modes of treatment were adopted to drive the ‘bad’ spirits away from patients, including starvation, prolonged chanting over the person, flogging, and even drilling a hole in the skull of the ‘possessed’ to allow the spirit to escape from the body."

"It was, however, the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, who formulated the theory of abnormal behaviour, putting forward the view that mental illness, like other illnesses, was caused by an imbalance in the chemicals in the body, rather than by good or bad spirits. He recommended certain drugs, purgatives, and exercises to restore the balance of the body as treatment. He was therefore perhaps the first ‘doctor’ Europe may be proud of; his diagnosis and treatment were based upon empirical evidence, systematic observations and not upon heresy and obscure views."