UC San Diego Professor Explores History Of Madness In New Book
This is KPBS midday edition. I am Maureen Cavanaugh. Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, chronic depression , the diagnostic names of many mental illnesses have been around for a few decades. The conditions have been around for thousands of years. So how did agent people deal with the mentally ill? As we get closer to our own time we've heard a series of daring theories attempting to explain the causes of mental disease. Recently I spoke with the author of a book that focuses on how mental illness has been handled through the centuries and how its influence religion, criminal justice, philosophy, and the arts. The authors Andrew's goal -- Andrew school -- Skull. here is the interview. Andrew welcome to the program. Thank you. I picture you having me. Is a fascinating book. One of the things is the title itself because the term madness is hardly ever use anymore. Certainly not in any sort of medical setting. A morning what did madness mean in centuries past? It is been -- it meant a lot of things. The core and all the societies OM aware of we find people to appear not to share the same common sense with the rest of us think we share. Or in the alternative experience such troubling emotional turmoil that they seem out of reach for the rest of us. That has a very very long history. The particular diagnostic realities behind influence are tremendously through the centuries. The Greeks tended to speak in terms of dementia and sometimes of hysteria. In modern times the labels were peripheral aided and just two years ago the -- the latest diagnostic manual and every one of those seems to grow ever larger and have more terms in it. Indeed. What are some of the earliest instances of insanity that are documented in human history? If you look at the Bible and look to the Jewish Bible, you will see their -- it refers back to a way to opening comments that some of the things that we might see and some of the people at the time saw as madness came to be viewed by the Jews as divine inspiration as prophet speaking and relaying words of God so that is a subtext that we can see their we can see it for example in the book of Samuel. We saw the first king of the Israelites we can see it as well in the story of Nebuchadnezzar. Who takes the Jews off to captivity. That doesn't provoked the divine Roth. If he thinks he's powerful than -- and then in the New Testament we see Jesus casting Jesus out of [ Indiscernible ] we see a number of other incidents where he has reported to cost out evil spirits from people who we see is mad. Did physicians in premodern times ever attempt to treat mental illness? Yes, very much part of the story. It exist in parallel for very long time. The ancient Greeks both sort things in terms of divine intervention in the world and had a temple medicine that tried to cure people with spells and prayer and so forth. At the same time, they are emerged at the time as a move -- know as the -- a medical approach to madness which try to treat it more naturalistic terms and to suggest that the same kinds of forces that underlay other kinds of disease could be invoked to explain madness. In your book madness are their stories are legends from European history that revolve around what we wrecked guys today as mental illness? Yes, I think so. Again, this is very controversial. Many of the early Christian saints were related -- later diagnosed by anti-Christian forces. As examples of hysterical behavior. So the meanings of things can shift and sometimes they are very controversial at the time. There was a case of history for example, in London or at least some of us would see us history. Which others soar as a case of religious possession or witchcraft. Indeed an old woman was convicted of witchcraft for putting this young girl into a spell of historical -- hysterical convulsions. It was in a brief period where there was a the professor we have a beeper to execute a. What got you interested in starting this topic of madness? It is a very long time ago -- I was in graduate school and I read a couple of powerful books. A book by -- called the discovery of the silent. I went off and spent a long time in this item archives. It was an interesting and sometimes rather spooky experience. Why spooky? You are down in the basements of mental hospitals with the cockroaches in rats and dusty old files and people think you're nuts to be down there. Particularly later when I found a hidden medical scandal involving the killing of hundreds of people in New Jersey it was like investigating a Gothic core story. Part of your book madness and civilization does examine the shameful history of mental or silence have you been able to figure out why so many people were treated so terribly? The asylum years which really date on a major scale from the second third of the 19th century down through the 1970s are very complicated. They begin with the beriberi -- very optimistic sense of what a silence can do. By the end of the century they really degenerated and in many ways have become hellholes with a terrible reputation. They also contribute to the sense of mental illness as ones were being essentially incurable and perhaps rooted in people's heredity and that in the 20th century the hands of the Nazis leads to programs to exterminate the mentally ill. It with a very shocking episode but the book deals with. When was it that society began to shift its understanding of the origins of madness from the sold to the brain? That -- this overlap in the medieval period we see for the first time the ancient Greek tradition that I talked about earlier reentering Europe and reentering from the Muslim world which is where that ancient knowledge survived when the Roman empire collapsed in urban civilization collapse so -- a reemerges and as I stress the Hippocratic's thought of mental illness and terms. So there is a period where divine speak into it knowledge that some cases of mental illness may have a naturalistic origin and others are rooted in the double possessing people. Physicians likewise acknowledge that some cases are religious in origin only later do we begin to see a complete separation between those two approaches. That we get to Sigmund Freud in the 20th century which brings mental illness into the parlors so to speak. Yes, into the post -- most intimate household of the relation between parents and children. So Sigmund Freud comes part of the story. He is not alone in advancing psychological accounts and mental illness. For particular here in the united states from World War II into the 1970s. They were in the culture in the movie business in novels and plays people like Tennessee Williams for example is a recurrent theme. That is a very important part of the story. How were they translated in the movies. A lot of people got their first understanding or image of what psychiatry was from the movies. In the 1940s, both some of the major Hollywood producers and the talent began to make use of psychoanalysis. Began to spill into the movies. It was a focus of one of Hitchcock's most famous films spellbound. In those days, it was portrayed pretty sympathetically. As the key that psychoanalysis was a key to unlocking the traumas that laid time people's illness. Later on in the 1970s we see Hollywood taking a rather more hostile attack and I teach of course of medicine the movie and the one movie might twentysomething students have all seen is one forever the -- one flew over the cuckoo's nest. A hostile controlling and nasty force in the world. It is interesting to see -- sometimes potters of images and sometimes negative. I'm interested in if you've taken overall view at the end of the compiling all this information and where we are now because it seems in our society is still really conflicted about mental illness. Many people are on medications daily to control bipolar disorder or even schizophrenia. Untreated mentally ill people are homeless in every city in the US. Then there is the judicial system. It stuck with this 19th century definition of insanity. How do you think our time is dealing with madness and civilization? That very well. -- Not very well. The issue of mental illness is something we are still [ Indiscernible ] in the dark. Psychiatry is a psychiatry of the last as for his decorate go this one very much towards an exclusively biological view of mental illness. I think that downplays its social, it's cultural, it's emotional. I think it is a mistake. Many of us are being taught that the reason we are depressed is because of the chemical soup in our brain is out of whack. If we take Prozac or some other chemical, than that will restore it. You mentioned the homeless mentally ill and the other place of them move now that the silencer shutdown is our jails and prisons. I don't regard that as a step forward. It's a return to the situation in the early 19th century. So our treatment of serious mental illness is not going as far as would like. The drugs have their place, but unfortunately, they are not psychiatric penicillin. For many patients whatever benefit they get from the drugs is offset by some very severe side effects. Many patients refuse to take the drugs because of that. What about the shame and stigma that you write about that has traveled with mental illness all through the centuries? How we improved on that in any way in modern times? Well, we don't accuses people being possessed by the devil and in some cases kill them. I'm afraid that shame and stigma are still very much part of the picture. They complicate the lives of people with mental illness. They complicate our attempts to both identify and treat this condition because -- I'm afraid shame and stigma are very much part of things. They help explain I think why people have rush to embrace families of the mentally ill biochemical explanation because the previous [ Indiscernible ] Wayne the parents. To be the parent of an autism child or schizophrenic child and be told your fall is a huge extra burden. I've been speaking of -- with Andrew school -- and you Skull. thank you very much.
Medical conditions like bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and borderline personality disorder are psychiatric labels that have only been used for the last few decades, but the conditions they describe have been around for thousands of years.
A new book, "Madness In Civilization: A Cultural History of Insanity, from the Bible to Freud, from the Madhouse to Modern Medicine," by UC San Diego sociology professor Andrew Scull, focuses on how mental illness has been viewed through the centuries.
How did ancient people deal with the mentally ill? Did they believe they were all possessed by evil spirits? Or did they revere some as prophets and saints?
On KPBS Midday Edition, Scull said how society understands mental illness is much improved since the days it was associated with witchcraft or religious fanaticism. But, he said, "We're still groping in the dark."
Scull said advances in treating chemical imbalances in the brain can downplay the social dimensions of mental illness, and medications are not always easy, effective solutions.
Time also hasn't washed away all judgment, he said.
"Shame and stigma are still very much a part of the picture," Scull said.