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mental health mondays :: historical perspective

when thinking about the problems of mental illness, it's worth looking at how tenuous our understanding is of the workings of the human brain. keep in mind that it was not that long ago that trained professionals felt that the only way to deal with someone in the throes of mania was to forcibly submerge them- all of them- in a bath of ice water until they "became calm". i'll let you ponder the possible outcomes of that treatment for a moment.

doctors now believe that they have a much greater handle on the workings of the human brain, but keep in mind, that is exactly what those who came before them thought. and while it is indisputable that we do now have more information about the chemistry of the brain and the makeup of the various substances in it, a lot of professionals will begrudgingly [some less begrudgingly] admit that knowing what goes into the brain doesn't necessarily make it a whole lot easier to guess how those substances interact with each other.

here's a few weird facts from the history of mental illness that may make you scratch your head, if only to make sure that there isn't anyone else trying to poke around in there.

just what the doctor ordered
"female hysteria" was a condition often diagnosed and suspected to affect up to a quarter of women in the 19th century. its symptoms included "faintness, nervousness, insomnia, fluid retention, heaviness in abdomen, muscle spasm, shortness of breath, irritability, loss of appetite for food or sex, and 'a tendency to cause trouble'". to many of us, that sounds suspiciously like the symptoms of being alive, or at worst of having pms, but it was pretty serious psychological business in the nineteenth century. one of the main treatments, since it was seen as a sexual disorder, was through vaginal massage, with the aim of reaching "hysterical paroxysm" [basically a kind of moment after which the women seemed to forget their problems and become strangely calm and happy]. this technique proved exceptionally frustrating to physicians, who found that the time it took to reach paroxysm was excessive and that sometimes, no matter how long or how intense the massage, the great moment just never arrived.

fortunately, the medical aid industry came to the rescue by inventing a mechanical massager that didn't get tired and that seemed to get more reliable results.



through the twentieth century, diagnoses of female hysteria declined and the condition was eventually discredited. strangely, though, the cure is still a hot seller. it just isn't covered by public or private insurance anymore.

samuel cartwright was a lauded physician in his lifetime and was particularly considered an expert on the physiology and health of african americans. he is chiefly remembered now for "discovering" the mental disorder "drapetomania", a condition that made slaves want to escape their masters and live as free men. because, of course, anyone seeking to leave the conditions of slavery must clearly be insane...

cartwright theorised that one of the causes of the disorder was the type of slave owners who tended to make the slave feel like an equal, a peer, someone who was a familiar and not merely property.

sigmund freud, whose work and theories still largely shapes our understanding of psychology today, was for years a great advocate of cocaine as a cure for depression and as an analgesic. like aspirin. but not really.

"you won't feel a thing. no, wait WE won't feel a thing."
in the 1920s and 30s, psychiatrist manfred sakel developed a treatment for schizophrenics known as "insulin shock therapy". this involved essentially forcing patients into an insulin coma and sakel claimed remarkable results- an almost 90% success rates. of course, it came out that the rates were exaggerated and those who did recover were suspected to have been patients who would have been likely to recover on their own and sakel had actually been pretty suspiciously selective about who got the therapy to begin with, as if he might have had some interest in skewing the results to make him look like a medical genius. and then, of course, there were the after-effects, because a lot of the patients who underwent insulin shock therapy developed hypoglycemia and became obese because, magically, their blood sugar seemed to go a little screwy after they were briefly turned into a giant mound of rock candy. some people insisted on poking holes in studies that claimed ist success, by pointing out that the newly calm, gentle and very relaxed "success stories" had in fact been brain damaged by the procedure. then there was that wee problem of the almost 5% mortality rate of the procedure, a rate that makes taking your chances healing morning sickness with thalidomide look like a good plan.

despite the fact that questions about the treatment and about sakel's data started to surface almost as soon as he went public, i.s.t. continued to be used as late as the 1970s. behold the speed of informed progress.

these are just a few cautionary anecdotes from the historical archives. the good news is that we are getting better at figuring out how our grey matter works. the bad news is, that's what these guys told their patients, too.

Comments

"The presence of huge numbers of women and children in factories, mills and sweat-shops radically changed social structures. And with this change came a heightened sexual anxiety among the rulers and owners. A perfect example of this is shown by “Influence of Sewing Machines Upon the Health and Morality of Females Using Them.” The authors of this article found that sweat-shop seamstresses often suffered from heart palpitations, severe back pain, headache, eye strain and exhaustion. The cause? Not miserable working conditions but secret sexual pleasure from pumping the sewing machine treadles all day. Women, as cogs in the vast industrial system, were thought to be masturbating and many were “forced to quit the establishment on account of the fatigue, lassitude, pains, etc. superinduced by the venereal excitement incident to setting the machine in motion.”

http://www.loompanics.com/Articles/Masturbational.html

as long as you're here, why not read more?

jihadvertising?

i keep seeing this ad for tictac candies:



am i the only one who finds the suicide bomber clown at the end a little unnerving? all the nice natural things like the bunny and the [extinct] woolly mammoth and the fruit get devoured by a trying-to-appear-nonthreatening-but-obviously-psychotic clown who then blows himself up. congratulations, tictac, i think this ad has landed you on about a dozen watch lists.

oh and by the way, showing me that your product will somehow cause my stomach to explode in a rainbow of wtf makes me believe that doing consuming tictacs would be a worse dietary decision than the time i ate two raw eggs and a half a bottle of hot sauce on a dare.

making faces :: hot stuff, comin' through

i don't even know what to say about the weather. the end of september saw temperatures at a scalding 36c/ 97f outside. this is especially annoying because we've had a moderate summer. most days it rained a little in the morning, the temperatures didn't creep into the 30s too often and there wasn't the normal stretch of a few weeks when it felt like we were living on the sun. now, we've receded into more normal fall weather, although it's still on the warm side for mid-october. that climate change thing is a bitch.

trying to think of something positive in the situation, it does put me in a perfect frame of mind to write about urban decay's naked heat palette. it's the latest in what appears to be an endless series of warm neutral and red eyeshadow palettes that have followed in the footsteps of anastasia's modern renaissance. [which i ultimately decided i didn't need after doing a thorough search of my considerable stash.] i do think that it'…

i agree, smedley [or, smokers totally saved our planet in 1983]

so this conversation happened [via text, so i have evidence and possibly so does the canadian government and the nsa].

dom and i were trying to settle our mutual nerves about tomorrow night's conversion screening, remembering that we've made a fine little film that people should see. which is just about exactly what dom had said when i responded thusly:

me :: i agree smedley. [pauses for a moment] did you get that here?

dom :: no?

me :: the aliens who were looking at earth and then decided it wasn't worth bothering with because people smoked even though it was bad for them?
come to think of it, that might mean that smokers prevented an alien invasion in the seventies.

dom :: what ?!?!?

me :: i've had wine and very little food. [pause] but the alien thing was real. [pause.] well, real on tv.

dom :: please eat something.

of course, i was wrong. the ad in question ran in 1983. this is the part where i would triumphantly embed the ad from youtube, except that the governmen…