Mental Illness in the 1950's

Mental Illness in the 1950's

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In the 1950’s, it was common so see people with frightened, uneasy, rejecting, and even arrogant attitudes towards people with mental illnesses. They considered those who were mentally ill as psychotic, violent and frightening. In the today, people are more accepting and understanding when it comes to mental illness, but some people are still ignorant with their responses, just like back then. In the 1950’s mental health treatment was typically provided in large state hospitals and other intuitions. Back then, topics like mental health were kept hush hush; people much rather putting those who were mentally in away in a state facility where someone else could monitor them. Today, people are more understanding.
As science has evolved, so have treatments for mental illnesses have over time. The medical model is described as the view that psychological disorders are medical diseases with a biological origin (King, 2010, pg. 413). Abnormal behavior that categorizes some disorders can be impacted by biological factors such as genes, psychological factors such as childhood experiences, and even sociocultural factors such as gender and race (King, 2010). Treatments such as psychosurgery (lobotomy) , drug therapy (pharmaceuticals), electroconclusive therapy, and psychoanalysis are used to treat a wide range of psychological disorders. Back then, the public’s negative views on mental illnesses also went as far to associate with the people who treated it; psychiatrists. “Nunnally (1961) found that the public evaluated professionals who treated mental disorders significantly more negatively than those who treat physical disorders,” (Phelan, Link, Stueve, & Pescosolido, 2000, pg. 189). People back then didn’t see the point in “paying to be told that they were crazy”. However, in today’s society, it is now acceptable to seek help from psychiatric professionals; we are seeing more and more people seek mental health treatment. “In terms of facility-based records of utilization (Manderscheid and Henderson 1998), the data suggest that the rate of utilization of professional mental health services has at least doubled and maybe tripled, between the 1950’s and today,” (Phelan, Link, Stueve, & Pescosolido, 2000, pg. 189). In the 1950’s, neuroleptic drugs like Thorazine were introduced to treat the symptoms of schizophrenia. These drugs block a neurotransmitter called dopamine from getting to the brain, which in turn reduce schizophrenic symptoms, however there are some side effects such as substantial twitching of the neck, arms, and legs, and even dysphoria or lack of pleasure. (King, 2010, pg.

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452). However, today there are drugs on the market today that have less side effects such as Clozaril and Risderdal. In cases of sever depression, some patients would receive electroconvulsive therapy, which would set off a seizure in the brain. This method was controversial because it caused some memory loss. Today you don’t hear about many lobotomies because it there are concerns if it is actually proven effective.
Today homosexuality still faces a lot of criticism, but back in the 1900’s, homosexuality was considered a psychological disorder. It wasn’t until 1973 that homosexuality was taken out of the psychological disorder category.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DMS) was created in 1952 by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). The diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders current version, DSM-IV, was introduced in the early 1990’s and revised in 2000 (King, 2010, pg. 414). The DMS classifies major psychological disorders in the United States based on a patient’s symptoms.
In the last fifty years, we have watched and witnessed significant changes in the understanding of mental illnesses such as Schizophrenia, Major Depressive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Dissociative Disorder, and so on. In 1957, mental health treatment was typically provided in large state hospitals and other institutions; this was the era when pharmaceutical treatment of mental illness was just beginning, and an affordable community based mental health system did not exist (Anderson and Cannova). Those who were sent to these institutions would be stuck there for years. During the 1900’s these institutions were viewed as a benevolent alternative to incarceration or homelessness. According to the 1996 General Social Survey, when asked to whom they would look to first in regards to getting help from sources on mental health issues, more than half of the Americans that were surveyed said that they would search for help amongst family and friends (Pescosolido, Martin, Link, Kikuzawa, Burgos, Swindle, and Phelan). This shows how society was slowly changing in reference to social norms, seeing how before then, those seeking help were most likely afraid to seek help at all due to them fearing they would forever be locked away in a mental intuition.

Works Cited

Anderson, M. and Cannova, L. (N.D.). 50 Years of Mental Health Hope and Struggle: 1957 –
2007. Retrieved December 5th, 2013, from

King, L.A. (2010). Experience Psychology. Textbook. P. 413 – 415, 452 – 466.
Phelan, J.C., Link, B.G., Stueve, A., & Pescosolido, B.A. (2000, June). Public Conceptions of
Mental Ilness in 1950 and 1996: What is Menal Illness and is it to be Feared?. Vol. 41, No. 2. P. 188 – 189. Retrieved December 5th, 2013, from
Pescosolido, B.A., Martin, J.K., Link, B.G., Kikuzawa, S., Burgos, G., Swindle, R., Phelan, J. (N.D.)
Public Report on the MacArthur Mental Health Module, 1996 General Social Survey. P. 2 – 3. Retrieved December 6th, 2013, from

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