Comparing medieval and modern mental health practices
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07-07-15 Category: Mental Health, Therapy


Popular stories of “Robin Hood” and “King Arthur” have kept the idea of the Middle Ages alive for generations. Although fictional in nature, current programs like “Game of Thrones” even offer a more direct perspective of how medieval systems may have operated. Regardless of how the history is absorbed, early periods of civilization are marked by a very primitive and spiritual perception of today’s casually understood concepts. One prominent area of knowledge for both the past and present is mental health. Learning more about the past perspectives on the subject is important in acknowledging how far experts have come in the medical field and where it still needs to go.

The perspective of the past

Like many sources from the Middle Ages detail, significant phenomena that could not be explained were commonly linked to the supernatural. This was especially true of behaviors related to mental disorders, since the causes for many psychological dysfunctions were virtually invisible to the human eye. As the primary figures of medieval authority, priests and clergymen formulated their own explanations for mental illness and the specific ways to treat them. With a background based in religion, many members of the church cited demonic possession as the reason for psychological abnormality.

Treatments sought to remove the spirits from the body by performing exorcisms, prayers and encouraging the afflicted to repent for their sins. Other ideologies of the time proposed that health was dependent on balancing bile and blood, also know as humors, inside the body. To maintain this balance, treatments consisted of expelling certain elements from the body via laxatives and even draining blood with leeches.

Innovation then and now

Currently, understanding the landscape of mental health is difficult without more context. In contrast to where the treatment field began, the modern version of psychological care is a supportive pillar of society that is reinforced with the accumulated scientific evidence of history. In order to have reached this level of more accurate diagnoses, well-supported methodologies and effective treatment, a certain degree of innovation was needed in the perspective of mental health at that time.

Similarly, current mental care services might be relatively advanced, but the system still needs improvement in particular areas. Expert opinions stress that a big upheaval of treatment procedures is required rather than small, incremental shifts. These opinions are based off of studies and national surveys that show 22.8 percent of Americans with a serious mental disorder visit their primary or general care physician for psychiatric diagnoses and treatment. This is compared to the lesser 16 percent who visit mental health specialists and 12 percent who visit a psychiatrist. Most importantly, only 40 percent of those with a mental disorder received any treatment and only 15.3 percent received minimally adequate treatment in the course of a year.

In a recent podcast interview, President Barack Obama highlighted some of the challenges changing the contemporary, American health care system as a whole. Detailing the scope of his proposed Affordable Care Act, the president explained that due to the United States’ established relationship of public and private insurance markets in the medical field, overturning everything for governmental health coverage would disrupt countless lives already within the system.

“Sometimes the task of government is to make incremental improvements or try to steer the ocean liner 2 degrees north or south so that 10 years from now, suddenly we’re in a very different place than we were. At the moment, people may feel like we need a 50-degree turn, we don’t need a 2-degree turn. And you say, ‘Well, if I turn 50 degrees, the whole ship turns,’” said Obama.

As the conceptual framework of mental health further accumulates new evidence and evolves, modern treatment providers must continue to apply these innovations in practice.

Sovereign Health Group is one such entity and upholds an inclusive biopsychosocial perspective for those seeking a comprehensive care plan. Unlike older modalities of treatment, Sovereign also maintains a non-invasive atmosphere of comfort and luxury at each of its residential facilities across the state. If you know someone suffering from mental illness, addiction or co-occurring conditions you can seek a safe and secure solution at Sovereign. Live chat or call (866) 819-0427 to speak with a representative and learn more.

Written by Lee Yates, Sovereign Health Group writer

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