The Evolution Of Mental Illness




Despite many improvements in treatment and research of mental illnesses, there are still existing social stigmas that hinder the society from addressing the issue of increasing incidence. In the prehistoric times, mental illness was seen in a mystical perspective. Without division between magic, religion and health care, without any real understanding of the cause of the occurrence of the disease, the abnormal behavior is attributed to the supernatural. Treatment would include casting of spells by Shaman and exorcists. From 500 BC to 500 AC, various mental disorders were pinpointed as melancholia, mania, hysteria, delusions, and hallucinations. Then, in the 15th century, the ideas and opinions on mental illness surrounds in arguments of the existence of witches, finding basis and proofs that witches-oftentimes women-do exist, how to identify a witch such as deviant behaviors, insanity caused by possession of the devil, salvation of the soul was given more importance than the physical body and physical punishments.

According to Neel Burton, MD, “In antiquity, people did not think of ‘madness’ (a term that they used indiscriminately for all forms of psychosis) in terms of mental disorder but of divine punishment or demonic possession.”




The 16th century was a time when mentally ill individuals were dangerous and were locked up in order to protect society. Mental illness was a topic tackled in literature. This was evident in the Shakespeare’s plays, but it was most apparent in the play “Hamlet.” Several characters in Hamlet might be identified as mad. Most notable are Hamlet and Ophelia. Deaths of their fathers drove the madness showcase in this game. Hamlet’s behaviors suggested a mental disorder. For instances, seeing the ghost of his father and the ghost urging him to seek revenge is an example of hallucinations. Visual and auditory hallucinations are one of the symptoms seen in individuals with some form of schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder. Many people with anxiety, depression and panic attacks also encounter hallucinations. At some point, Hamlet questions his insanity whether it is, in fact, the ghost of his father or rather the devil itself who is betraying his soul.  In the end, his madness and quest for revenge resulted in the most tragic of the story: Death to himself and his loved ones. Another major character who also exhibited symptoms of mental illness is Ophelia. Ophelia showed signs of depression over the death of his father. The death of her father also destroyed her self-identify and it too bloomed the feelings of helplessness regarding her own life. The subject of mental health during these times may not have prompted dramatic action towards the treatment and management of mental illness, at least it became a vehicle of awareness regarding the fact that mental illness exists and can happen to anyone.

In the 17th century, the general belief was that if “mad” people behave like animals, they would be treated as one. A neuroanatomist and doctor, Thomas Willis advocated treatments such as curative discipline, fetters, blows and medical treatment.  The law decree that a mentally ill individual lacked the ability to reason so his affairs are handed over to someone else – nearest friend – who will not substantially benefit from his death. The care of the ill was a domestic manner and cared at home or private mental institution.

The 18th century was a dark age for the mentally ill. They were classified as prisons who are oftentimes, neglected. During this period, there was the development of asylums usually away from the public. The 19th century was a breakthrough and become a pivotal point in what mental illness is today. The mentally ill were treated in a specialized facility resembling a homey environment. Decent beds replaced the prison room with pictures of nature and loved ones and other decorative objects. A structured schedule was implemented, and inappropriate behaviors were tackled with the goal of restoring sanity and become a productive member of society.

In the 1960s, there was something referred to as “antipsychiatry.” Mark L. Ruffalo, DPsa, LCSW, wrote, “Perhaps the most pervasive — and harmful — claim made by antipsychiatry is that mental illness doesn’t really exist, and that the treatments for mental illness are merely concealed attempts to exert social control over the population.”

“There were many others who joined in on the attack on asylums, including Thomas Szasz, R. D. Laing, and Franco Basaglia, and using history to do so,” wrote Matthew Smith, PhD. “Political beliefs, personal turmoil, and the spirit of the 1960s—not to mention the beginning of deinstitutionalization—all played a role in shaping their arguments, as such factors usually do, even in the most “scientific” areas of medicine.”




With the present situation, a lot has changed since research, science and digital technology have intertwined and allowed the discovery of treatments and innovations on how to treat and handle mental illness. There has been a lot of promising changes, however, we still need more human involvement and understanding in relation to our attitude and behavior with persons suffering from mental illness.

Art Therapy


Experts estimate that mental illnesses affect one in every three people. Imagine the extent and how widespread these conditions are if their estimation is correct. The incidence of mental illness is at its all-time high, and the increase of these cases are attributed to the use of technology and probably, due to the lesser stigma about the condition, more and more people are seeking help and openly talking about it; thus, contributing to the statistics. concurs.

Claire Henderson, Ph.D.,  and co-authors, wrote that “Evidence suggests that factors increasing the likelihood of treatment avoidance or delay before presenting for care include (1) lack of knowledge to identify features of mental illnesses, (2) ignorance about how to access treatment, (3) prejudice against people who have a mental illness and (4) expectation of discrimination against people diagnosed with mental illness.”

What is Art Therapy?

In modern medicine, the treatment focuses mainly on pharmacology and psychotherapy.  Innovation and research continue to find a deeper understanding of the conditions and procedures; however, according to numerous accounts, people suffering from mental disorders shared that art therapy is a significant factor in their recovery.


Psychotherapy takes many forms. One of which is art therapy that utilizes artistic mediums to aid people in the exploration of their emotions and thoughts in a different vehicle.

“Art therapy utilizes images, metaphors, and a “right-brain” approach to understanding yourself and your life,” shares Lara Hanson, LCSW, a verified therapist of Psychology Today. “By tapping into a creative, imaginative side of yourself there becomes a new “window” or type of view into yourself that allows you to more effectively solve problems through a different perspective.”

The Rationale Behind Art Therapy

The rationale behind art therapy treatment is the utilization of art as a primary means of communication, which can be useful for instances where the individual finds it difficult to verbalize his thoughts and feelings. Using motor skills and physical objects like paper, paintbrushes, often foster an atmosphere of connection between the artist and people around them. Other than helping those with mental health issues, art therapy is advantageous to different people including young children, the elderly, and those serving their sentences in prison.

How Does Art Therapy Function?

Art therapy functions as a three-way process between the client, therapist, and the result. It offers an opportunity for creativity and expression. An art therapy session can either be done in a one-to-one or group class depending on the needs of the client. Since art therapy is highly versatile, it can be carried out in a variety of settings: schools, hospitals, community centers, etc.  Art therapy typically lasts around 1 to 1.5 hours and should be done regularly. During the art therapy session, involvement or participation in the activity will solely depend on the individual and if you are in a group session, observing the class is also allowed. As part of the therapy, the counselor may encourage you to display your work in front of everyone. This way it can help the patient accept his emotions and feel social acceptance when shared with others.

“Art therapy bypasses the left side and stimulates the traumatic memory on the right side, as the individual processes their artwork, the speech area of the brain reactivates thereby reintegrating the right and left sides of the brain to promote healthy brain functioning,”  noted Susan Clifton, MSW, LCSW, a facilitator of psychotherapy groups and family and couple sessions and the Social Work Director for Dorothea Dix Hospital.

The versatility of art therapy can curb boredom when using different mediums. In an art therapy session, an individual may do some of the following exercises:


Creating a painting from a blank canvas is one of the purest forms of art. It gives you the freedom to do whatever you want. It can be intimidating especially for first-timers, but your art therapist will guide you by providing exercises and prompts. The therapists will also teach the basic techniques of painting



Sculpting is creating a figure using clay or other pliable materials. It allows the creation of the concrete structure of something intangible. You can bring to life your emotions and feelings.


Some people feel more comfortable in familiar and straightforward mediums. In a drawing, the materials needed are readily available.


Utilizing the camera as a tool to see the world from a different perspective, hopefully giving motivation and venue for self-expression for patients with mental illness.

These are just a few of the art therapy exercises that an individual can do. These art therapy exercises take place under the guidance of an art therapist, the individual and their art therapist will discuss and explore the artwork.