A Brief History of the Progress of Mental Health & Wellness

Sandusky Artisans Recovery Community Center
May 14, 2014

May is Mental Health Month and I wanted to take some time to mention how mental illness and the treatment of those afflicted with these issues have been treated in the past and today. 

In order to become an Ohio Certified Peer Supporter with a Mental Health designation the student must attend classes and take a series of webinars. One of the webinars involves the history of how mental health clients have been treated and how the mental health recovery movement has progressed. This webinar is in no way meant to be a complete and thorough explanation but rather just a small primer for the aspiring Certified Peer Supporter to learn. I will contribute just a small portion of that webinar and what the Certified Peer Supporter will learn by viewing it. 

Let us begin before recorded time. Archaeologist have found around 45,000 BCE about a dozen cases of human remains in which pathologies and diseases were so pronounced and severe that these illness would have demanded another person to care for the afflicted individual in order for that ill person to live. Archaeologist believe that this is proof of the beginnings of human care and concern for an individual other than oneself. Yet, early in human history scurrilous belief systems surfaced and became a prominent mode of thought as to what we now know as mental illness. It was widely considered by ancients that sorcery, demons and other negative supernatural forces caused mental health problems. 

Our history continues when in 1793 Phillip Pinel a French doctor treating mental health patients entered the Bastille prison in France and removed the chains of the mentally ill. In the census of 1840 the United States first attempted to measure the extent of mental illness within our country. Clifford Beers, honorary President of the World Federation of Mental Health, writes in 1908 about the deplorable conditions found inside state and private mental institutions and the following year the National Committee for Mental Hygiene is founded in New York City. This becomes the forerunner of the National Mental Health Association. In 1917 the “Statistical Manual for the Use of Institutions for the Insane” is published by the “Committee on Statistics” the precursor to the American Psychiatric Association and this publication list for the first time 22 diagnoses. The National Mental Health Foundation, an early proponent for deinstitutionalization, is founded in 1946. In the year 1952 the APA’s “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual” incorporates 106 mental disorders. Four years later SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) is created. The year is 1979 and NAMI (National Alliance of Mental Illness) is formed. President George H. Bush signs into law the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 and by 1994 the DSM-IV (Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) has increased to 374 mental disorders from the 106 described in it’s 1952 edition. 1996 brings the passage of the Mental Health Parity Act and in the following year in Broward County, Florida the first mental health court is established. Finally in 2013 the 5th edition of DSM-5 is published. 

This previous paragraph just briefly highlights some of the old stereotypes associated with mental illness and some of the advances regarding the views towards these disorders. It is in no way complete. It does however show how perceptions have changed over time. It may be difficult to recall that in times passed cancer and other diseases were stigmatized as well. The preceding paragraph identifies and spotlights that much more work needs to be done to lessen the stigmas associated with mental illness. The true measure of any society is how that society treats it’s less fortunate. I can speak that our community’s efforts are laudable but no effort can be complete. It is in the trying that we will succeed. So, with that in mind during this month dedicated to Mental Health awareness I salute everyone who helps facilitate the mental health and well being of our community. Sandusky Artisans Recovery Community Center firmly believes in “Living in the Solution” rather than the problem. Let’s all work together to make “Recovery a Reality” for everyone.