Madness: A History, a film by the Films Media Group, is the final installment of a five part series, Kill or Cure: A History of Medical Treatment. It presents a history of the medical science community and it’s relationship with those who suffer from mental illness. The program uses original manuscripts, photos, testimonials, and video footage from medical archives, detailing the historical progression of doctors and scientists’ understanding and treatment of mental illness. The film compares and contrasts the techniques utilized today, with the methods of the past. The film offers an often grim and disturbing recounting of the road we’ve taken from madness to illness.
Historically the course of medicine provided treatments that could either cure or kill the patient, this was especially true for those who suffered from mental illness. Throughout history, people have feared the mentally ill, believed to be filled with evil spirits or the Devil, they were treated as outcasts and frequently killed. Beginning in the 17th century, the belief in satanic possession had disappeared and rather than being tortured or killed, suffers were locked away in prisons, which through the perversion of, and abuse of the word, became known as asylums.
It wasn’t until the 1800’s that reform in the mental health system began and asylums began a transformation from a prison to a more humane version of a mental hospital, and although there was an improvement in treatment of patients there was no hope for a cure. Psychiatry was born in the 19th century and new diagnoses were developed, mental illness began to be viewed with an underlying biological imbalance. Sigmund Freud rose to prominence in the field and introduced psychoanalysis, the con...
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...at schizophrenia. He critically summarizes that it is doctors, rather than the patients, who have always calculated the evaluation of the merits of medical treatment, as the “mad” continue to be dismissed as unreliable witnesses. When in fact it is the patient being treated, and their subjective experience, that should be foremost in the evaluation. The film backs up this analysis with interviews of people, living viable lives in the town of Geel, Belgium. I would recommend this film to anyone interested in the history of medicine and specifically to those examining mental illness. It provides a balanced recounting of historical approaches to mental illness, along with success stories of the people of Geel, Belgium. And although I had to look away during the viewing of a lobotomy procedure, I give credit to the power of the visual impact the footage provides.
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