I was asked to run a training session on attachment disorder, most relevant in the school in which we work. So I spent an interesting few hours researching and dipping into a favourite but shocking book by Elaine Showalter ‘The Female Malady: Women, Madness and English Culture, 1830-1980. Focusing on attachment disorder a key theory applied in our present education system I also wanted to look at treatments based on theories and models that develop politically within the historical and cultural environment.

So first of all here are my questions for you, when you hear the phrase mental health, take a moment to reflect…

  1. What images arise in your mind?

  2. What words pop into your mind?

  3. How do you feel about it?

  4. Experiences -Family members? Self?

  5. Where has this come from? Attitudes of childhood?

  6. Is there an emotional charge attached to these internal experiences?

The World Health Organisation constitution states:

  • “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” An important consequence of this definition is that mental health is described as more than the absence of mental disorders or disabilities.

  • Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community. In this positive sense, mental health is the foundation for individual well-being and the effective functioning of a community.

  • It is determined by socio-economic, biological and environmental factors.

But isn’t all of life  made up of natural rhythms and cycles, some we notice and others about which we are unaware…the moon, weather, seasons, diurnal cycle and of course natural development adolescence and menopause, the fact that every cell of our body is renewed every 7 years not forgetting the adventures that life throws our way. All this impacts on our mental health and the way nature is nurtured will help different aspects of how we express ourselves and develop our potential…or not!

Any behaviour considered out of the ‘norm’ in a society is often placed under a mental health label and was treated so as to bring people back in line. Different methods grew out of the society’s’ norms and values, whereby a little ‘eccentricity’ was to be enjoyed, more extreme differences were to be hidden, controlled or displayed for the masses to be entertained by. No change then…TV programmes the spider boy for example.

There is of course nothing new under the sun. Shamanic healers have been using a variety of techniques from trance to herbal medicine to kill or cure as befits their pantheistic beliefs in spirits all around them.


Ancient Egypt in 3100BC in the Secret Book of the Heart described 3 kinds of healers, the physician, the priest and the sorcerer. Treatments and education took place in the Temples, thus the word therapist derives from the Therapeutae who were a monastic group of healers who offered service in the Temple of Alexandria.

Ayurvedic medicine from India, Chinese herbs and acupuncture used to keep people well rather than treat them.Hippocrates had the first hospital in Kos the Hippocratic Oath is taken by medical students to this day..to do no harm…, Aristotle and Asclepiades all had their ideas about treatment which were usually gentle, restful approaches. In t

In Rome Galen wrote a famous book on medicine and anatomy, mostly learnt from war and much from gladiators who had to be kept in peek condition.

Islamic medicine was developed with hospitals in the 8th Century Al-Razi unfinished book of medicine and philosophy gathered most of the medical knowledge known to the Islamic world in one place. This book was translated into Latin and it became one of the backbones of the western history of medicine.

The basis of much mediaeval medicine was The Four Humours were:

  • Sanguine: The blood, related to the element of air and the liver, dictated courage, hope and love.

  • Choleric: Yellow bile, related to the element of fire and the Gall Bladder, could lead to bad temper and anger, if in excess.

  • Melancholic: Black bile, associated with the element of earth and the spleen, would lead to sleeplessness and irritation if it dominated the body.

  • Phlegmatic: Phlegm, associated with the element of water and the brain, was responsible for rationality, but would dull the emotions if allowed to become dominate

Treatment often included was bloodletting with leeches. This is coming back as a practice and with an unexpected side effect seems to have an impact on depression as the initial bite of the leech injects a substance that acts as an anaesthetic as well as an anti depressant. Avoids their victims noticing what is draining their blood!  http://leeches.biz

Closer to home we have the genocide of women, called witches, which may have been linked to the damp weather causing rye to rot and ergot fungus causing convulsions and hallucinations. It took the Catholic Church to start torturing, burning and murdering thousands of people to release the demons possessing them….nice one!  Does anything change, some Christian ministries accuse children of being witches for bedwetting with appalling cruelty being committed in the name of beliefs.

           https://encrypted-tbn0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcTPBPwhBmBxPoEKxUgIzi7Vv2ZfYu2rJHGJc45Doqcnw8zUObPu                                      https://encrypted-tbn2.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcRy4kQCcg2VNPiHF45Loeq0IZ7R1EN4f2cUpl7gBuKuS3WBSbSP

Before the 1800’s wealthy people had private madhouses or those with disability were kept in a room away from everyone and often those whose disability was considered to be too difficult to manage were often left or assisted to die at birth. And then a more recent approach with the Nazis of genocide and experimentation, not a great history of the world to be honest!

Phrenology and Physiognomy, the study of the bumps on your head and your facial features were used to diagnose and classify mental health disorders and criminality.  This was in a world where the poor were criminalised and placed in workhouses with others who were disabled or different in some way or other.






In Britain the County Asylums Act 1808 started off building massive institutions. The asylums of the day were meant to be asylums in the true sense of the word.


They were to be places where those who were paupers or mentally ill could go and find solace and safety and get away from the harsh work conditions of the workhouses. Many of these were children who were desperate for somewhere to go and find safety. Therefore, admitting children from the workhouses under such false pretences for example because they are a serious danger to themselves and others could cause them to receive improper treatment.

The Lunacy Act of 1845 set up a Commission to monitor conditions and treatments  where some restraint procedures were made illegal!


Early Waterboarding Method


That old chestnut, the long sleeved cardigan!

The regular monthly beatings 3 days before the full moon was  used as a preventive approach to bad behaviour over the full moon was banned!  However the treatments available may well have fitted into the worst kind of horror film…in fact that is where we get many films using the myths of madness or badness ,the endless corridors of the lunatic asylum on a full moon feature large! Other treatments continued however and included:


General Misery


Electric shock treatment




And now we have moved on, huge institutions in favour of support in the community. Vulnerable institutionalised people have been ‘let out’ to communities that rarely exist and certainly do not wish or have the resources to support people with mental health issues. Halfway houses allowed sleep time only and then out on the street for the rest of the day with traffic to navigate and homelessness and alcohol a very real option. Services are constantly cut so professionals can’t offer appropriate care, only recently it was reported that beds for mental health patients had been cut by 10% with children being placed in emergency in adult wards. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/special_report/55945.stm

Treatments have moved on for quick fix to the high use of drugs for chemical ‘cosh’ with side effects that do not encourage people to continue with their regime. In some cases whose side effects include suicide and murder (certain anti – depressants) http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/What_are_the_real_risks_of_antidepressants.htm

So what is the answer? Many good people continue to seek through research for that magical pill. The increase in the diagnosis and definition of mental health issues through DSM makes more and more of life issues into an illness.


Children increasingly on drugs for Hyperactivity and depression without offering natural outlets for energetic children who we are drugging to fit into our society’s needs for control.


These are things for the nightmares of the present day, the benzodiazepine scandal broke with millions of women given repeat prescriptions for 20- 30 years of their lives in a drugged induced haze..don’t think it has ended there either!


In some cultures the ‘fool’ was considered sacred an innocent to be revered and looked after. The King would have a fool or clown to entertain and amuse but the fool was also able to say things in jest that others would be afraid to state and get away with their head! He would be a balance of dark and light and it is thought that is the source of many people who fear clowns.

The famous circle dance ‘The wise man and the fool’ shows the first path is of the wise man straight and narrow, but the fool dances and gets lost, both finally get there in the end!. You might enjoy this local group demonstrating the moves…join in why not. Which one is you|? Both I hope, the fool experiences so much of life in laughter.


Nowadays with the rise of the media fear continues to quickly whip up emotions from ignorance of the issues as well as through trust in proffered solutions from our over stretched services. The definition between ‘mad’ or ‘bad’ continues to puzzle us. Whilst the genome and latterly neural imaging have promised to get to the root of the problem, in truth it is only another step on our understanding of the greater mystery that is the human being.

So what is to be done and how did we get to this place?

The next exciting instalment will look at theories and models and how they come to influence the medical treatment of those with mental health issues, which by the way will be most of us throughout our lifetime!


In the meantime smile and be happy, let life leap through you and of course always look on the bright side of life…di dum…di dum deed um di dum http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2UP86bciVA