Psychiatry is the realm in which medical science and psychology join to provide help for persons whose mind (as one says) is disturbed and whose behavior does not conform to accept social patterns. Psychopathology and clinical psychology are integral sub-fields of this branch of medical psychology which, of necessity, also includes neurology, mental deficiency or retardation, forensic psychology, certain aspects of abnormal psychology, social psychology and psychotherapy.Mental illness has been recognized as such since the days of Aristotle and Hippocrates, and its long modern history has been able described by some scientists.
Mental Health, state characterized by psychological well-being and self-acceptance. The term mental health usually implies the capacity to love and relate to others, the ability to work productively, and the willingness to behave in a way that brings personal satisfaction without encroaching upon the rights of others. In a clinical sense, mental health is the absence of mental illness.
The Mental Health Movement
Concern for the mentally ill has waxed and waned through the centuries, but the development of modern-day approaches to the subject dates from the mid-18th century, when reformers such as the French physician Philippe Pinel and the American physician Benjamin Rush introduced humane “moral treatment” to replace the often cruel treatment that then prevailed. Despite these reforms, most of the mentally ill continued to live in jails and poorhouses—a situation that continued until 1841, when the American reformer Dorothea Dix campaigned to place the mentally ill in hospitals for special treatment.
The modern mental health movement can be traced to the publication in 1908 of A Mind That Found Itself, an account of the experience of its author, Clifford Whittingham Beers, as a mental patient. The book aroused a storm of public concern for the mentally ill. In 1909 Beers founded the National Committee for Mental Hygiene.
Public awareness of the need for greater governmental attention to mental health services led to passage of the National Mental Health Act in 1946. This legislation authorized the establishment of the National Institute of Mental Health to be operated as a part of the U.S. Public Health Service. In 1950 the National Committee for Mental Hygiene was reorganized as the National Association for Mental Health, better known as the Mental Health Association.
In 1955 Congress established a Joint Commission on Mental Illness and Health to survey the mental health needs of the nation and to recommend new approaches. Based on the commission’s recommendations, legislation was passed in 1963 authorizing funds for construction of facilities for community-based treatment centers. A similar group, the President’s Commission on Mental Health, reported its findings in 1978, citing estimates of the cost of mental illness in the U.S. alone as being about $17 billion a year.
In addition, according to the President’s Commission, the list of mental health problems should be extended beyond identifiable psychiatric conditions to include the damage to mental health associated with unrelenting poverty, unemployment, and discrimination on the basis of race, sex, class, age, and mental or physical handicaps.
Public health authorities customarily distinguish among three forms of prevention. Primary prevention refers to attempts to prevent the occurrence of mental disorder, as well as to promote positive mental health. Secondary prevention is the early detection and treatment of a disorder, and tertiary prevention refers to rehabilitative efforts that are directed at preventing complications.
Two avenues of approach to the prevention of mental illness in adults were suggested by the President’s Commission. One was to reduce the stressful effects of such crises as unemployment, retirement, bereavement, and marital disruption; the second was to create environments in which people can achieve their full potential. The commission placed its heaviest emphasis, however, on helping children. It recommended the following steps:
1) good care during pregnancy and childbirth, so that early treatment can be instituted as needed;
2) early detection and correction of problems of physical, emotional, and intellectual development;
3) developmental day-care programs focusing on emotional and intellectual development;
4) support services for families, directed at preventing unnecessary and inappropriate foster care or other out-of-home placements for children.
Care of the mentally ill has changed dramatically in recent decades. Drugs introduced in the mid-1950s, along with other improved treatment methods, enabled many patients who would once have spent years in mental institutions to be treated as outpatients in community facilities instead. (A series of judicial decisions and legislative acts has promoted community care by requiring that patients be treated in the least restrictive setting available.) Between 1955 and 1980 the number of people in state mental hospitals declined from more than 550,000 to fewer than 125,000. This trend was due partly to improved community care and partly to the cost of operating hospitals; in an effort to save public money, some large state mental hospitals have been closed, forcing alternatives to be found for patients. This is generally considered a progressive trend because when patients spend extended periods in hospitals they tend to become overly dependent and lose interest in taking care of themselves. In addition, because the hospitals are often located long distances from the patients’ homes, families and friends can visit only infrequently, and the patients’ roles at home and at work are likely to be taken over by others.
The psychiatric wards of community general hospitals have assumed some of the responsibility for caring for the mentally ill during the acute phases of illness. Some of these hospitals function as the inpatient service for community mental health centers. Typically, patients remain for a few days or weeks until their symptoms have subsided, and they usually are given some form of psychotropic drug to help relieve their symptoms. Following the lead of Great Britain, American mental hospitals now also give some patients complete freedom of buildings and grounds and, in some instances, freedom to visit nearby communities. This move is based on the conclusion that disturbed behavior is often the result of restraint rather than of illness.
Treatment of patients with less severe mental disorders has also changed markedly in recent decades. Previously, patients with mild depression, anxiety disorders, and other neurotic conditions were treated individually with psychotherapy. Although this form of treatment is still widely used, alternative approaches are now available. In some instances, a group of patients meets to work through problems with the assistance of a therapist; in other cases, families are treated as a unit. Another form of treatment that has proven especially effective in alleviating phobic disorders is behavior therapy, which focuses on changing overt behavior rather than the underlying causes of a disorder. As in the serious mental illnesses, the treatment of milder forms of anxiety and depression has been furthered by the introduction of new drugs that help alleviate symptoms.
Many different sciences contribute to knowledge about mental health and illness. In recent decades these sciences have begun to clarify basic biological, psychological, and social processes, and they have refined the application of such knowledge to mental health problems.
Some of the most promising leads have come from biological research. For example, brain scientists who study neurotransmitters—chemicals that carry messages from one nerve cell to another—are contributing to knowledge of normal and abnormal brain functioning, and they may eventually discover better treatment methods for mental illness. Other researchers are trying to discover how the brain develops—they have learned, for example, that even in adults some nerve cells partially regenerate after being damaged—and such research adds to the understanding of mental retardation, untreatable forms of brain damage, and other conditions.
Psychological research relevant to mental health includes the study of perception, information processing, thinking, language, motivation, emotion, abilities, attitudes, personality, and social behavior. For example, researchers are studying stress and how to cope with it. One application of this type of research may help to prevent mental disorders; in the future, psychologists may be better able to match people (and their coping skills) to work settings and job duties.
Research in the social sciences focuses on problems of individuals in contexts such as the family, neighborhood, and work setting, as well as the culture at large. One example of such work is epidemiological research, which is the study of the occurrence of disease patterns, including mental illness, in a society.