History of Psychiatry: Hysteria in WWI, Leucotomy in Western Australia, and More

A new issue of History of Psychiatry is now online. Full titles, authors, and abstracts below.

“‘A more perfect arrangement of plants’: the botanical model in psychiatric nosology, 1676 to the present day,” by Daniel Mason and Honor Hsin. Abstract:

Psychiatric classification remains a complex endeavour; since the Enlightenment, nosologists have made use of various models and metaphors to describe their systems. Here we present the most common model, botanical taxonomy, and trace its history from the nosologies of Sydenham, Sauvages and Linnaeus; to evolutionary models; to the later contributions of Hughlings-Jackson, Kraepelin and Jaspers. Over time, there has been a shift from explicit attempts to pattern disease classification on botanical systems, to a more metaphorical use. We find that changes in the understanding of plants and plant relationships parallel changes in the conceptualization of mental illness. Not only have scientific discoveries influenced the use of metaphor, but the language of metaphor has also both illuminated and constrained psychiatric nosology.

“Psychiatry in Portugal: Key actors and conceptual history (1884–1924),” by José Morgado Pereira. Abstract:

The aim of this article is the study of psychiatry in Portugal between 1884 and 1924, the period when it became institutionalized, and when works that marked its scientific evolution were published. This paper summarizes the various historiographical approaches, and its approach to the subject is closest to the conceptual history carried out by German Berrios in Cambridge. The study attempts to correlate the key actors and their works with the history of different scientific ideas, its differences, and the influences of foreign authors. The diseases, syndromes, symptoms and pathologizations in this historical period were also studied, justifying a constructionist perspective. Finally, the various therapies are discussed, from institutional to pharmacological and psychotherapeutical.

“Late medieval philosophical and theological discussions of mental disorders: Witelo, Oresme, Gerson,” by Vesa Hirvonen. Abstract:

No matter from which perspective Witelo, Oresme and Gerson approach mental disorders, they think that madness usually has a bodily, such as a humoral or organic, origin. They do, however, consider divine or demonic causes as possibly being behind immediate causes. According to Witelo and the Parisians, because of a change in the body, madmen’s sensory fantasy is disturbed and in this situation their intellect does not act normally, and their will lacks freedom. It is important to realize that, according to the medieval writers, mentally-disordered people have not lost any parts of their soul or their basic potencies. If this were the case, they would not be human beings by definition.

“Abrupt treatments of hysteria during World War I, 1914–18,” by AD (Sandy) Macleod. Abstract:

Case reports of the abrupt recovery of hysterical disorders during World War I (1914–18), though undoubtedly subject to publication bias, raise both aetiological and treatment issues regarding pseudo-neurological conversion symptoms. Published clinical anecdotes report circumstantial, psychotherapeutic, hypnotic, persuasive (and coercive) methods seemingly inducing recovery, and also responses to fright and alterations of consciousness. The ethics of modern medical practice would not allow many of these techniques, which were reported to be effective, even in the chronic cases.

“‘A matter for conjecture’: leucotomy in Western Australia, 1947–70,” by Philippa Martyr, and Aleksandar Janca. Abstract:

Very little has been published on the rise and fall of psychosurgery in Australia. In the mid-twentieth century, Western Australia was the largest but most sparsely-populated of the six Australian States, and its local psychiatry practice was, as one commentator put it, ‘backward’. Nonetheless, electroconvulsive therapy was introduced in 1945, and leucotomy in 1947. This paper will explore the introduction of leucotomy to Western Australia in the context of wider national and international trends in psychiatry, and posit some reasons for its decline and abandonment in the 1970s. It will present a narrative reconstruction of the local introduction and practice of leucotomy, using retrieved, reconstructed and previously unpublished data.

“Mental illness in Sweden (1896–1905) reflected through case records from a local general hospital,” Malin Appelquist, Louise Brådvik, and Marie Åsberg. Abstract:

Mental illness in a hospital in a medium-sized town in Sweden was studied. Consecutive case records from 1896 to 1905, and also from 2011, were selected. In the historical sample, neurasthenia was the most common diagnosis, followed by affective disorders and alcohol abuse. ICD-10 diagnoses corresponded well with the historical diagnoses. Melancholia resembled modern criteria for depression. Mania, insania simplex and paranoia indicated more severe illness. Abuse was more common among men and hysteria among women. Those with a medical certificate for mental hospital care were very ill and showed no gender difference. There were no diagnoses for abuse, but 17% had a high level of alcohol consumption. The pattern of signs and symptoms displayed by patients does not appear to change with time.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young recently completed a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Surrey in the UK. She earned her doctorate in the History and Theory of Psychology at York University in 2014.