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Mental illness is nothing new

C.J. Botha

Some people believe that mental illness is a recent issue, stemming perhaps from the rise of social media, the balance of church and state in our educational system, or new understandings of parenting and child-development studies. There is a belief that common mental health issues like anxiety and depressive disorders are a recent phenomenon and have inexplicably become far more common than in past generations. But mental illness is nothing new.

Just as it was once believed that asthma could be treated with a diet of boiled carrots, or cataracts would be cured with a paste of burnt periwinkle flowers and honey applied to the eyes, symptoms of mental illness were often addressed through the physical motivation of father’s leather belt, or a stout branch applied to a child’s backside. But in fact, these myopic strategies often did one of two things, neither of which could be called treatment. For milder issues, children quickly learned to conform to family and societal expectations by repressing the illness until it returned with a vengeance decades later, often in the form of substance use disorders. For more potent concerns that would not respond to force, there were state asylums, which we know today often did little more than chain residents to the walls and keep them subdued with medications. In fact, the large bell that is today the international symbol of mental health was originally formed from melting down the shackles collected from such facilities shortly after World War II.

Medical progress and new understandings of illness is not grounds for questioning the fortitude of new generations. Education must continue, and it will as long as there are those willing to offer their resources to help.

Links to mental health resources are at MHANational.org.

Eric Litwiller has served the south central Kansas community through his work at Mental Health Association since September of 2017. As Director of Development and Communications, he is charged with seeking the private investment required to raise awareness of the scope of mental health concerns throughout the region in an effort to eliminate the unfair stigma associated with mental illness.