In the ancient times, people thought mental illness to be a demonic possession or divine punishment. Since there was no evidence or logical reason found behind these diseases, treatments were introduced to help clear the body from any spirit that may have taken over the person. Physicians fought against this view, giving physiological explanations for mental illness. People sought to magical or religious methods for cure which included spending the night in a temple. The ones suffering were either taken care of by their families or they were thrown out of their houses.
It wasn’t until Hippocrates (460 – 377 BC), who brought up the thought that mental illness was due to the imbalance of four bodily fluids or humour, which was the first scientific explanation to mental illness. Aristotle and Galen later on contributed to Hippocrates’ theory of humours.
Greek doctors did not differentiate between physical and mental disorders, and they were not able to diagnose cases from schizophrenia to cases as simple as depression. Back in those they were more concerned with externalising disorders such as ADHD, conduct disorder, etc. rather than internalising disorders such as depression and anxiety. The treatment that they introduced ranged from prayers to surgery. The practice of physical restraint was also included which is looked down upon in the present.
The people with illness were forced to give up on life without treatment. They were shunned, killed or imprisoned. The diseased were either allowed to roam the cities aimlessly or were forced to stay indoors.
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Beck, J. (2014). Diagnosing mental illness in ancient Greece and Rome. The Atlantic. Retrieved from