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UC San Diego Professor Explores History Of Madness In New Book

Nebuchadnezzar as a wild animal, painted by an unknown artist in Regensburg, ...

Credit: Madness In Civiliation

Above: Nebuchadnezzar as a wild animal, painted by an unknown artist in Regensburg, Germany around 1400, is inspired by the biblical story of the Babylonian king's madness. This image is featured in the book, Madness in Civilization: A Cultural History of Insanity, from the Bible to Freud, from the Madhouse to Modern Medicine by Andrew Scull.

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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.

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