The Museum of the Mind

Raving Madness at Bedlam Museum
Raving Madness at Bedlam Museum

Yesterday, during a visit to the thought-provoking, I was reminded both how far we have come in the treatment of mental illness since the ‘Bedlam madhouse’ was first opened, and how far there is still to go.
At the entrance to the new museum stand the two statues which used to sit over the gates to the old hospital: “raving madness” and “melancholy”.

At the time, these just about covered the range of diagnoses for mental illness. Many centuries later, we have a far better understanding of all the ways in which the mind can be ‘broken’, as well as the different manifestations of mental illness. Today, for example, is ‪#‎WorldAutismAwarenessDay‬; although first coined by a Swiss psychiatrist in 1911, the word autism wasn’t used in its current sense until the 1940s, long after the building that houses the latest iteration of the Bethlem Hospital was built.

It made me wonder: how has the divvying up of mental illness into infinitesimally narrow diagnoses affected those who live with it? Have some types of mental illness or their manifestations become more ‘acceptable’ than others? How much has that been affected by Pharma’s desire to sell drugs that people have to take for all eternity?

(Originally published on April 3, 2016)