Throughout the course of recorded human history depression has been a malady with which people have struggled, suffered and sought relief. Unfortunately, long before the advent of modern medicine early physicians and healers had only their limited knowledge, imagination and gut instinct to work with. But as dedicated helping professionals they were determined to alleviate their patients’ “dejection” or “melancholy.” As such, they devised treatments for depression and other mental illnesses which, today, seem strange, weird and even barbaric.
In 1927 Viennese physician Manfred Sakel sent a diabetic patient who was also a morphine addict into an coma when he accidentally administered an insulin overdose. When she, luckily, came out of the coma she reported her addiction was gone. Apparently, Sakel made the same mistake with another addict who awoke claiming to be cured.
Sakel believed he was on to something and used coma therapy with a reported ninety percent rate of cure among schizohprenics.
The reason for this treatment’s success remains unclear but was phased out due to the danger and death associated with coma.
Trepanation, which involves boring a hole in the patient’s skull, has been identified as one of the earliest forms of mental health treatment.
Insanity and other unwanted behavioral problems where believed to be the cause of demons living inside the person’s head. Creating a hole in the person’s skull was a way to let demons escape, thereby eliminating suffering from depression.
Devised by Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of Charles Darwin, rotational therapy was used to “spin” people to sleep. Sleep was believed to be the best remedy for any disease, so quickly inducing slumber became the goal of this treatment devised by this not-very-successful, physician, philosopher, and scientist.
Rotational therapy never gained much credibility until an American doctor, named Benjamin Rush, used the dizzying therapy in his psychiatric practice. But instead of trying to induce sleep, Dr. Rush would spin patients in a rotating chair to reduce brain congestion. He believed this to be the cause of their mental illness.
While no longer used to treat mental illness, rotating chairs continue to be used in the study of space sickness and vertigo.
Early psychiatrists believed the calming effects of soaking in water could be adapted to treat a wide range of mental health issues. If you were nervous and unsettled, hot, relaxing baths were recommended. If you lacked energy and were tired all the time, you were treated with energizing sprays.
Unfortunately, hydrotherapy left the realm of common-sense and entered the realm of borderline torture when doctors tightly swaddled patients with towels soaked in ice water, or strapped patients into bathtubs, submerging them for hours and even days.
Fortunately, except for relaxing soaks in a hot tub, hydrotherapy treatments for depression have largely been abandoned.