InfographicThe History of Mental Health Care

Infographic depicting the history of mental health care from the 1500s to present day.

Share this Infographic

Embed this Image On Your Site


The History of Mental Health Care


Mental health conditions and treatment are serious business. Studies show 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. struggle with mental illness each year. (1) Mental illness leads to more than $193 billion in lost earnings in the U.S. each year, and suicide is the second-leading cause of death for people age 15 to 24. (1,2) Though doctors still have a lot to learn about treating mental health conditions, they’ve come a long way from previous treatment ideas.


Call the exorcist

Mental illness was thought to be caused by demonic possession (2)



Religious figures performed a ceremony to release demons


Doctors drilled a hole into the patient’s head to “release” the spirit. Unsurprisingly, most people treated with this procedure died.


In good humor

Doctors believed they could cure mentally ill patients by fixing their “humors,” or bodily fluids. They believed it possible to treat mental illness by forcing patients to vomit and bleed. (3)


Good morals

Philippe Pinel, born in 1745, advocated for moral treatment. This meant looking at how environmental changes could impact an individual’s psychology. He rejected assumptions that mental illness was caused by demons. Pinel personally talked to his patients about their personal problems, marking the first attempt at therapy. (4)


Locked up


In the 1800s, mentally ill patients were kept in insane asylums, where they faced prison-like conditions.

Members of the public could pay to visit the facility and watch patients like zoo animals. (5)


Who needs all that brain?


Doctors tried to remove “excess emotions” believed to cause mental illness by surgically cutting through the frontal lobe. (6)


Take a chill pill


In the late 1950s, chlorpromazine became the first pill that worked to treat a variety of mental illnesses. (7)

TODAY: 2000s and beyond

Options expand

Talk it out:

Psychotherapy is based on the idea that talking about problems with a trained professional could help alleviate them by providing perspective. (8)

Talk therapy has proven to be an effective treatment for:

Depression (9)

Feeling sad or having a low mood

Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed

Difficulties with energy, sleep and appetite

Feeling worthless or guilty

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (10)

Feeling nervous, irritable or on-edge

Sense of impending danger

Increased heart rate, rapid breathing, trembling and sweating

Prescription medication:


Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors

Work by blocking the re-uptake of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain so that more of the neurotransmitter is available

Used to treat depression, anxiety disorders


Norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitors

Increase the amount of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain

Used to treat depression and ADHD

Antipsychotics (12)

Work by regulating levels of dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain

Used to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and severe depression