Changes in the Nature and Requirements of Psychiatric Help

Although mental illness dates from the dawn of mankind and was documented by the ancient Greeks, Romans and Persians, recognising it as a clinical condition that might respond to medical treatment was a process that took many millennia. Prior to that, it was regarded as the manifestation of magic or demonic possession, and curable only by counter-spells or exorcism. In practice, the first attempts at providing psychiatric help can be attributed to the Islamic societies of the 8th century although the term psychiatry was only coined more than a thousand years later. It first appeared in a paper by the German physician Johann Christian Reil in 1802. Reil went on to establish himself as one of the first university lecturers to offer this subject to medical students.

However, research continued to be based on the premise that all mental illness must be the result of brain injury or disease. This belief hampered any significant advance, leaving its victims to be categorised simply as insane and limiting their treatment to confinement, usually under the most unpleasant conditions. The first true insights that would eventually result in meaningful psychiatric help came with the recognition of differing forms of psychosis by another German, Emil Kraepelin, followed by the theory of the unconscious mind and founding of psychotherapy by his Austrian contemporary, Sigmund Freud, at the close of the 19th century.

Inevitably, conflicting views regarding the causes and treatment of mental illness emerged but ultimately led to greater understanding, and the early years of the 20th century saw the first use of chemicals such as lithium salts and chlorpromazine to treat selected conditions. The same period saw the emergence of electroconvulsive therapy now confined to extreme cases such as catatonia and mania, and used only with informed consent.

The modern approach to psychiatric help is more holistic and is designed to meet the mental, physical and spiritual needs of the patient. Typically, a treatment programme will combine the use of appropriate medication with counselling and therapeutic activities whilst facilitating healthy social interaction. The overall goal of this approach goes beyond the mere elimination of any feelings of depression or anxiety, actively promoting happiness and a greater sense of self-worth that is vital for a patient to reintegrate successfully into the social and working environments.

Sadly, our modern lifestyles have brought with them new challenges that threaten our mental health. Post-traumatic stress is no longer confined to the battlefield but is as often the result of violent crime, while addictions to prescription drugs and illegal substance abuse have reached unprecedented levels, creating a need for psychiatric help that is growing with each day.

Among the institutions to respond to this escalating need, the Beethoven Recovery Centre near Pretoria applies the latest evidence-based interventions in support of those affected by mental illness or in need of assistance to overcome some form of addiction. The centre is located in the idyllic setting created by the Magaliesberg Mountains and Hartbeespoort Dam offering patients an environment of peace and tranquillity in which to embark on the road to recovery.

Holistic programmes tailored to individual needs are designed to heal physical and mental damage, restoring a healthy self-image and the confidence to face life with renewed strength and resolve.