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Mental health treatment has not always enjoyed the humane reputation it enjoys today. In the past, diagnosis was made on the basis of the strict social hierarchy. Some of these diagnoses and treatments may shock you.

Nowadays, when we think of mental health problems, we think of celebrities bearing their souls on National television, and clean counsellors' offices with beige couches and who listen intently to what you have to say.

However, it is only recently that that has been the case. The history of mental health care is scattered with electroshock, mind-bending addictive substances, and ice-water baths.

Just as the kind of treatments that people used to receive can make the bravest among us wince, the diagnoses that used to be made every day may make us gasp, as we remember how - as little as forty-years-ago - what was classed as a mental illness was predicated, not on biology, but on what was socially acceptable.

Which brings us to our first historical diagnosis.

Female Hysteria

In the Victorian and Edwardian era, the role of a "real woman" was very clearly defined. She was a home-loving, demure creature; keeper of the hearth, lived for the daily hour with her children, excelled at quiet hobbies like needlepoint and playing the piano; she had no interest in politics or the world beyond her home, but knew how to keep her hands pretty.

Any woman who didn't fit that ideal "ladylike" mould risked being branded "hysterical". Indeed, there was a 75-page book of possible symptoms of Female Hysteria, with everything from nervousness, insomnia, and fluid retention to "a tendency to cause trouble" being branded as signs of the condition. Once the woman was declared to be suffering from Female Hysteria, her father or husband could have her locked away in an asylum. There was no appeal, no chance to prove she was sane.

Hysteria was originally considered to be caused by a "wandering womb". Doctors of the period assumed the womb would wander no more if it was removed, so many unwilling women were forced to have hysterectomies while incarcerated in asylums. Other common "therapies" performed on asylum patients were Oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries) and clitoridectomy (removal of the clitoris).

Another theory said Female Hysteria was caused by the retention of a "female sperm", which was supposed to mingle with the male sperm during climax. Of course, for a woman to enjoy sex was socially-unacceptable (and masturbation was a big no-no, too). So, doctors came up with the notion of pelvic massage. Basically, they would use oils and massage the clitoris until the patient had "hysterical paroxysm" (now, we'd call it an orgasm), which caused a rapid improvement in those pesky symptoms of hysteria. However, this caused terrible repetitive strain injury to the doctor's hands and wrists, whose waiting rooms swelled with respectable ladies, yearning to try the most socially-acceptable treatment for Female Hysteria.

It was the doctor's wrist ache that led to the invention of the vibrator, advertised in that most respectable catalogue, the 1903 Sears Catalogue, as "a delightful companion". But that's a story for another day.

Did You Know: Some conditions that may have been dismissed as Female Hysteria include Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Schizophrenia.
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