The Root Cause of Mental Illness as Discovered by a Patient.
By Alessandro Prian
Key Themes: anti-psychiatry, autobiography, humour, comic strips, history of theory of mental illness
Never far from controversy, The Cake Theory is a fascinating autobiography and critique of current thinking on mental illness. Alessandro sets out to find the root cause of his own, and then other people’s, mental ill health with often humorous and surprising results. Prian writes with sensitivity, maturity, vigour, intelligence and brilliant comedy in an enlightening, refreshing and intriguing fashion.
About the Author
Having a history of mental illness and being diagnosed with manic depression (which I dispute) I feel it only right that I contribute with my own ideas on mental health. I cal me idea ‘The Cake Theory’, this is because schizophrenia and other mental disorders have more than one contributing factor and there are a variety of ingredients needed to develop it just as there are a number of ingredients that make up a cake.
In early Egypt mental illness was believed to be caused by environmental factors like the loss of status or being made destitute. The treatment involved talking about your problems and turning to religion and faith. It was acceptable to commit suicide at the time. Later the ancient Egyptians changed the theory and decided all illnesses have physical causes. They thought the heart was the root cause of mental illness.
As history progressed, the notion that the victim was to blame became the accepted norm. Explanations like evil spirits and moral decline created the stigma that is still evident today. In the 13th Century in the United Kingdom one of the first mental institutions was established. The infamous Bedlam was a place where the mentally ill were chained to walls and society conveniently forgot about their existence. Patients were later referred to as ‘inmates’ and there was no distinction between the mentally ill and the criminally insane. Patients were crowded into dark cells sometimes sleeping five to a mattress near damp floors, firmly chained in position. There was no fresh air or light and they were regularly whipped and beaten. It’s important to remember that this was a period when the Church governed and dictated society. This only strengthened the theory that the mentally ill were the work of the devil. Some of the mentally ill were even put to death.
An American colonist referred to the mentally ill as ‘lunatics’. This word comes from the word lunar meaning moon because it was thought the moon had something to do with the root cause of mental illness. Methods of treatment involved submerging the patient in iced baths until they lost consciousness, induced vomiting and the notorious bleeding practice. This procedure involved cutting the patient and draining the bad blood however it usually resulted in the death of the individual.
The first mental asylum in America opened in 1769 founded by Benjamin Rush. He also became known as America’s first psychiatrist and other asylums were opened all over the country. Rush decided to abolish whips, chains and straitjackets, however he introduced his own method of keeping control of the patient. The chair which can be seen below was his personal favourite and at the time it was considered a lot more humane than being chained to a wall. Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was the founder of the psychoanalysis movement. Freud introduced the theory that patients classified as hysterics might have purely psychological factors contributing to their illness rather than organic brain disease. Freud was born at a time when most of Europe was changing from an agricultural society into an industrialized one. This was an era of new inventions and technological developments and he decided that the mind of a man could be just as complicated and as intricate as a machine. He developed the theory that the mind has many hidden and deep layers which are all governed by the unconscious. He concluded that people with chronic mental illness have a fixation and obsession with the anal region. He believed this fixation originated from a childhood desire of getting pleasure from going to the toilet and a perversion from an infantile age. The mental person’s deep dark hidden secret of the unconscious mind.
In the 1930’s a new cure for the mentally ill was discovered called lobotomy, and Walter J. Freemen developed the trans-orbital technique. This procedure was performed by sedating the patient and applying quick shocks to the head. One of the eyelids was rolled back and a needle the size of a thin pencil was inserted into the patients head. The device was hammered in to position after which a swinging motion of the needle was created within the patient’s skull. Lobotomy became common practice and it was only after the death of many patients that it was abolished. This period also saw a rise in the number of patients undergoing electro convulsive treatment (ECT). Because the level of electricity was so high some patients died or suffered brain damage. In the 1950’s the medical profession introduced an anti-psychotic drug called Thorazine for the treatment of the mentally ill. Anti -psychotic medication helped shorten the length of time patients spent in institutions. In fact there was a decline in asylum populations and though patients are no longer physically detained many feel imprisoned within their own minds.