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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

History of psychiatry


Mental illness is as old as mankind itself, but it was not until 1808 that the word psychiatry was coined by Professor Johann Christian Reil in his seminal paper “On the term of medicine and its branches, especially with regard to the rectification of the topic in psychiatry”. The word psychiatry itself derives from the two greek words psyche, meaning soul or mind, and iatros, meaning physician.


For much of human history mental disorders were often considered to have supernatural origins and the mentally ill were thought to be possessed by evil spirits. Many treatments during this time were based on magic and sorcery and exorcism was a popular “cure”.


The first psychiatric hospitals were set up in the eighth century in the medieval Islamic world, but many consider that the development of modern psychiatry did not begin until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Mental health institutions began to use more elaborate and more humane treatment methods in the 19th century, and psychiatry developed as a recognised field.


The 20th century brought with it an understanding of the biology behind many mental disorders and the development of new drugs for the treatment of many psychiatric conditions.


To find out more about the history of psychiatry, please see the links below:


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