What do you know about mental illness treatments from the past and present?


By: Maria Trimarchi

6 Min Quiz

Image: Shutterstock

About This Quiz

One out of 17 American adults and kids -- that's about 6 percent of Americans -- are dealing with a serious mental health condition, including major depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia and PTSD. Today, up to 90 percent of people living with mental illness can be significantly helped with a combination of things, including therapy and medications. But it wasn't always this way. How much do you know about how history has treated mental illness?

Which of these is a cause or contributing factor for mental illness?

The stigma of mental illness is difficult to overcome, but no mental illness is caused by any of these myths.


Is it true children don't have mental illness?

About 50 percent of mental illnesses show red flags before age 14, and about 75 percent of mental health problems start before you turn 24. (But fewer than 20 percent of kids and teens receive proper treatment.)


If you lived during the Middle Ages, what would you have believed was the root of "emotional disturbances"?

During the Middle Ages, and during the Renaissance period, too, mental illness was considered caused by witchcraft and demonic possession -- which could be cured by confessing or undergoing exorcism.


Which is NOT a contributing factor to a person developing a mental health problem?

Because some mental illness runs in families, your family history is important. In addition to what's in your genes, your life experiences are also a factor, such as a trauma or abuse.


What did the "tranquilizing chair" do for mentally ill patients?

While the tranquilizing chair wasn't harmful or beneficial, it had to have been strange. The chair was based on the belief that mental illness was caused by inflammation of the brain and was supposed to control the flow of blood to the brain.


What kind of side effects could transcranial magnetic stimulation, which is used to change activity in certain parts of your brain, cause?

No one knows exactly how placing an electromagnetic coil on your forehead works, but it does. In 2008, it was approved as a therapy for treatment-resistant depression. But it doesn't come without side effects, which can include facial twitching, headaches, hearing loss, light-headedness and, less often, seizures.


The stigma of mental illness continues in today's society. Which is a harmful effect of this stigma?

The harmful effects of today's societal stigma over a person's mental health can include discrimination, physical violence and a lack of emotional support and understanding, all of which can lead a person to be reluctant to seek treatment.


Psychiatric hospitals run in 17th-century Europe were cold, dark and housed who in addition to those with those suffering from mental illness?

Along with mentally ill patients, 17th-century psychiatric hospitals in Europe were also known to house a broad spectrum of people considered social outcasts, including people with substance abuse problems, those who were mentally or physically disabled and prostitutes, among others.


In the early 20th century, doctors tried water treatments to cure mental illness. Which was not one of those treatments?

Psychiatrists in the early 1900s tried to cure their patients by firing high-pressure water jets at them, restraining them in the bath for long periods of time, in addition to wrapping them, like mummies, with towels soaked in ice water.


Which is not a popular type of behavioral therapy approach used today?

CBT, DBT and MBCT are just three common types of behavioral therapies in use today.


What type of treatment is, in the 21st century, considered the most effective for recovery from depression?

Today, our evidence suggests the most effective way to treat mental illness isn't with whirling chairs or lobotomies, but, rather, with psychotherapy paired with medication.


What, during the Victorian era, could cause a woman to be considered "unbalanced"?

There were so many reasons for a woman to be considered "unbalanced" during the Victorian era, including PMS, post-partum depression and disobedience. Anxiety and chronic fatigue syndrome could also get you labeled.


Before falling out of fashion, what was it that phrenologists studied?

Because they believed a person's brain was a good measure of that person's mental capacity, phrenologists would study the lumps and bumps on a person's skull to divine their intelligence, personality traits and character traits.


What was considered the treatment for mental illness caused by out-of-balance "humors"?

Claudius Galen, an ancient Greek physician, theorized that (almost) all our ills were because of our "humors:" black bile, blood, phlegm and yellow bile. Bleeding and vomiting were considered ways to rebalance the humors, which would in turn heal mental (and physical) illness.


Around the beginning of the 19th century, which religious group advocated kindness when treating the mentally ill?

The end of the 18th-century and beginning of the 19th was a time when there was a bit more of a compassionate care approach to mental health -- at least, fewer chains. It was the Quakers who advocated for kind treatment of the mentally ill.


Hippocrates believed a woman suffering from hysteria could be cured if she what?

The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates considered hysteria, with symptoms that included fainting and nervousness, cured if a woman got married and had children. And that belief didn't change much until the 20th century, when scientists began to identify real evidence of mental illnesses.


Are all patients in today's psychiatric wards put there against their will?

Unlike in the past, most of today's mental health patients choose to go to in-patient mental health programs. It's not impossible to be sent against your will, but it's not an easy thing to do.


Which popular antidepressant, introduced in the late 1980s, became popular because it had fewer side effects than previous meds?

The antidepressant Prozac (fluoxetine) was introduced in 1987, and not only was it effective, it had fewer side effects than previous antidepressants.


What was the purpose of the whirling chair in mental health treatment practices?

Spinning one's patient until he or she lost consciousness was considered beneficial because it was thought to rearrange the contents of the brain.


Although it shouldn't be used as a first-line therapy, which controversial treatment can be effective?

For some patients who have no positive or beneficial response to treatment, electroconvulsive therapy may help where those failed. ECT has gotten less scary over the years, and today can be 75 percent to 85 percent effective in relieving symptoms.


Which psychiatric treatment was awarded a Nobel Prize, only to find out it was much riskier than initially thought?

It's one of just a few mental health treatments to be awarded a Nobel Prize, but lobotomy, which works by disrupting brain circuits, was too ineffective and too risky to use. It was because of lobotomy, though, that we have electroconvulsive therapy and deep brain stimulation.


Every year, 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. lives with mental illness. How many won't seek treatment?

Nearly two-thirds of the 43.8 million American adults experiencing symptoms of mental illness this year will not seek treatment. Worldwide, of the 450 million people with symptoms of mental illness, only about 10 percent will receive care.


Perhaps best known as the father of hypnosis, Franz Mesmer believed the moon's gravitational pull affected mental illness. What did he believe was the cure?

Mesmer believed the only thing that could counteract the moon's gravitational pull were magnets, and he placed them on different parts of his patients' bodies. Although he and his patients claimed they worked, there's no evidence it was anything more than the placebo effect.


Rather than committing them to prison, who hoped to open mental health institutions devoted to caring for the mentally ill?

In the 19th century, Dorothea Dix assumed the plight of the mentally ill, advocating for humane mental health institutions rather than prisons.


Who are more violent: fictional TV show characters with mental illness or real people with mental illness?

Studies have found TV characters written to have mental illness are 10 times more likely to commit a fictional violent crime than the characters without mental illness. And that is between 10 to 20 times more likely than a real-life person living with a real-life mental illness.


How long does it take, on average in the U.S., between the time a person's symptoms begin and when they are helped?

On average, the delay between when a person's symptoms of mental illness begin and when they are helped is eight to 10 years.


It's more common today for a person living with mental illness to be a victim of violence than a violent offender. How many people are victimized every year?

As many as 1 in 4 people living with a mental health condition experience violence against them because of their mental illness. It's worse for those with severe mental illnesses, who are more than 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than a person in the general population.


This signer of the U.S. Constitution was also the founder of American psychiatry and believed that mental illnesses were diseases rather than demonic possession. Who was he?

Benjamin Rush, founder of American psychiatry, oversaw care in the psychiatric ward at the Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia. Rush had some interesting techniques but advocated for a more humane approach to mental health treatment, including "sympathetic listening."


Mood disorders, along with what other mental illness, account for 82 percent of mental health hospitalizations in the U.S?

Mood disorders, including major depression and bipolar disorder, are the third most common reason for hospitalization among Americans ages 18 to 44. Together with schizophrenia, the two are responsible for 82 percent of all hospitalization for mental health.


Today, what percentage of the U.S. homeless population is living with a severe mental illness?

About 20 percent to 25 percent of the homeless population in the U.S. is living with a serious mental illness, which means it impacts their daily living.


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