The history of mental illness is probably as old as the origin of mankind. People suffering from mental disorders were mentioned in the holy books of various ancient religions such as Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism.

The term “psychiatry” is a Greek word which literally means “medical treatment of the soul”. It was coined by Dr. Johann Christian Reil In the early 19th century.

Although mental asylums were established during the medieval period, psychiatry as a distinct medical discipline only started developing from the 18th century.

In Singapore, the healthcare system established by the British in the nineteeth century allowed people suffering from depression, schizophrenia and various mental disorders to receive medical care which gradually evolved to what we are familiar with Mental Healthcare in Singapore today.

The gradual evolution of psychiatry as a distinct branch of medicine

In the early years when psychiatry was still in its infancy, studies were limited to violent and/or aggressive mental patients who had to be kept quarantined, mostly in mental asylums or hospices. Most of these patients had severe forms of psychotic or neurotic disorders which ‘soul’ or ‘mind’ physicians of that time were not able to effectively treat.

The knowledge of psychiatry evolved with description of psychopathologies where doctors identified syndromes with clusters of symptoms (which sometimes overlapped) of distinctive mental illnesses. Today, syndromes of mental disorders such as schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorders, personality disorders, ADHD, dementia, major depressive disorder are well understood by Psychiatrists.

Just over a century ago, Sigmund Freud and other “psychoanalysts” such as Carl Gustav Jung penned papers on the patients they treated and theorised that mental disorders had an underlying unconscious etiology. Freud described the patients whose psychoneurotic disorders affected their daily lives and relationships, he reported that they improved when their unconscious mind were “psychoanalysed”. Freud was the first to develop psychoanalytic principles for the treatment of neurotic patients.

The discovery of medications such as chlorpromazine and thioridaziines in the fifties and sixties of the 20th century was a major breakthrough for psychiatry. Mental hospitals in Europe and USA witnessed many patients being released due to the positive healing effects of using psychotherapy and medicines in combination.

Leading pharmaceutical companies invested billions of dollars and engaged qualified researchers for conducting R&D that paved the way for the development of highly efficient and safer antidepressants, antipsychotics, stimulants and relaxants.

The combined used of medicine and psychotherapy together with other adjective treatment modalities such as art therapy, play therapy have allowed many patients to recover and re-integrate into society. These are treatment modalities offered by therapists at the Adelphi.

Written by Adelphi Psych Medicine Clinic