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The Growth of Attention on Mental Health

Author: Qinghao Ma

Editors: Flynn Ma, Shirley Chen

Artist: Lalita Ma

What is mental health? Mental health encompasses a person’s emotional, psychological, and social well-being, affecting how we think, feel, and act. It also determines our decision-making skills, coping mechanisms, and social relationships with one another. While intangible, everyone can be affected by mental health. Despite our current nurture and care for mental health, it wasn’t always like this. It took years, decades, and even centuries to discover something so simple yet complex.

Historically, as far back as 5000 BCE, mental illnesses were often attributed to demonic possessions, curses, sorcery, or a vengeful god. To remove this illness from the head, a hole was opened up in the skull for the illness to be retreated. This sounds extremely foolish to modern-day people, but it was and still is extremely difficult to battle an illness that isn’t physically present.

In pre-industrial Britain, the responsibility to care for the mentally ill usually fell to family members. This system failed when family members couldn’t or chose not to provide this care, and it resulted in the confinement of people who had mental illnesses. Fasting forward to the late 1700s, there seemed to be an increased recognition of how the solution to mental illness was care and treatment rather than confinement. The 1800s were filled with newly constructed mental institutions that offered a variety of treatments. In 1908, a substantial mental hygiene movement was initiated by the consumers of psychiatric services and professionals who focused on improving the conditions and treatment qualities of people who suffer from mental disorders. The field of psychiatry changed significantly after the First World War (1914-1918) when psychiatrists were asked to treat troops with neurosis that resulted from the stress and trauma of war. Doctors then started to experiment with new treatments in hopes of seeking a cure for previously incurable and chronic diseases such as schizophrenia. Despite so many breakthroughs in the field of mental illness throughout the centuries, technical references to mental health as a field or discipline were not discovered until 1946.

Happening concurrently, the fields of psychology and psychiatry – both focusing on the study of mental health –were incorporated to combat the influence of mental illness. The psychiatry study focused on diagnosing, treating, and preventing disorders in terms of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral factors. Being discovered first in the 18th and 19th centuries by German physician Johann Christian Reil and French physician Philippe Pinel, Western psychiatry was seen as a medical specialty that focused on caring for the mentally ill. Similarly to psychiatry, the psychology study was discovered in 1879 by German physiologist and philosopher Wilhelm Wundt. Wundt created the first experimental psychology lab at the University of Leipzig, Germany, which aimed to identify and measure the atoms of the mind through the reaction time and speed of thought of humans with a pendulum. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in a new era of mental health challenges, exacerbating issues like anxiety, depression, and social isolation. According to the Mayo Clinic, the pandemic has led to significant increases in reported mental health symptoms among U.S. adults due to financial pressures and social isolation during the pandemic. 

In recent years, not all developments in mental health have been negative. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline (988) and other local mental health treatment facilities were developed to control and treat patients who need help from others. Psychology and psychiatry clinics are now widely accessible around the globe, and there are more students than ever before who plan to major in psychology to help more people suffering from mental illnesses. Throughout the years, the understanding of mental health has substantially evolved from superstitions to scientific and compassionate care. With more awareness and support for the mental health community, mental illnesses will only be more readily treatable.



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