The Disturbing Truth About Mental Illness In Medieval Times

Our understanding and acceptance of mental illnesses are still far from perfect and comprehensive, but we've certainly come a long way from how we used to treat those suffering from diseases of the mind. In the Middle Ages, when progress in many fields of science was slow, the treatment of the mentally ill was irresponsible at best and gruesome at its worst.

According to Museum Facts, those who suffered from mental illnesses were believed to be possessed by demons. As such, it might not come as a surprise that exorcisms were common "treatments" for the mentally ill. However, other treatments were much more brutal and gut-wrenching, including bloodletting and drilling holes in the brain, despite the general population not being as dogmatically religious as many think. Demonic possession was just a more plausible cause for the symptoms of mental illness than the idea of a diseased or chemically imbalanced brain.

The mentally ill were outcasts

In the Medieval era, the mentally ill were often cast out of society, shunned for their supposed demonic possession or for their perceived involvement in witchcraft. The people who lived during that time lacked understanding of how the brain worked or what mental illnesses were (via Baton Rouge Behavioral Hospital). When those who were deemed to be possessed were "treated," they were hardly better off. Besides the aforementioned exorcisms and bloodletting, other treatments included forcing malnutrition and "inappropriate medications" upon those who displayed misunderstood behaviors. 

The reason for this pitiless attitude toward the mentally ill was the widely accepted explanation of demonic possession as the cause. The thinking was, it was a supernatural disease, so what hope could mere mortals have in curing it? Even though medical technology and understanding has evolved through the ages, there is still a stigma surrounding mental illness today. Our understanding of mental illness, both scientifically and among the general public, is still far from perfect, but at least we've stepped up from the torturous treatments of the Middle Ages.