Mental Health Timeline

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Mental Health Timeline

Mental Health
Mental Health Timeline
Mental Health Timeline
Mental Health Timeline
Use this timeline to see such historic events as how people like Freud developed theories on mental illness to how the U.S. has addressed the introduction of new drugs for treatment.
Medical Content

Mental Health

Treatment for the mentally ill has changed dramatically since the late 1800s. From Sigmund Freud to the introduction of drugs like Thorazine, Valium and Prozac, researchers and doctors have made great strides in treating this mysterious illness.

Use this timeline to see such historic events as how people like Freud developed theories on mental illness to how the U.S. has addressed the introduction of new drugs for treatment.


1899 - Psychiatry: A Textbook for Students and Doctors, 6th edition, Emil Kraepelin, a Munich professor of psychiatry, classifies major psychoses into two groups: dementia praecox (paranoia) and manic-depressive psychosis.

1900 - Sigmund Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams revolutionizes psychiatric theory and practice. He is the first to describe the unconscious mind and understand its functioning as an important component of psychiatric illness. He developed a form of intensive psychotherapy called "psychoanalysis," which makes use of two central techniques — free association and the interpretation of dreams.

1905 - Sigmund Freud's Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality describes the stages of sexual development and there influence on a variety of mental states and troubling symptoms.

1908 - Clifford Beers publishes A Mind That Found Itself, detailing his experiences as a patient in psychiatric hospitals. This work promptes the founding of the mental hygiene movement in the United States.

1911 - Eugen Bleuler, a Swiss psychiatrist, coins the term 'schizophrenia' in his book, The Group of Schizophrenias. He writes that dementia praecox (paranoia) patients do not always develop dementia but instead, 'schizophrenia.'

1917 - The Austrian psychiatrist Julius von Wagner-Jauregg uses malaria-induced fever to cause remission in patients with slight or incomplete paralysis (also called dementia paralytica). For this contribution, he becomes the first psychiatrist to win the Nobel Prize (1927).

Also in 1917, Alfred Adler establishes the school of individual psychology and becomes the first psychoanalyst to challenge Freud. He coins the terms 'lifestyle' and 'inferiority complex' in his book, Study of Organ Inferiority and Its Psychical Compensations.

1920 - The Menninger Clinic (for mental health patients) is founded in Topeka, Kansas. The Center was named after William Menninger who pioneered effective treatments for psychiatric casualties in World War II, and Karl Menninger who brought psychoanalytic concepts to American psychiatry.

1937 - Karen Horney, a German-born psychiatrist challenges Freud's theories about female sexuality as a cause of mental symptoms. She argues that culture has a bigger effect on the development of character traits than a child's sexual development. In The Neurotic Personality of Our Time, she argues that neurosis largely is determined by social and interpersonal influences.

1938 - Franz Kallman, a German psychiatrist who emigrated to the U.S. in the 1930s, first theorizes that heredity was a relevant factor in schizophrenia. He establishes the first full-time genetics department in a psychiatric institution in this country.

Also in 1938, electric current is first used by Ugo Cerletti to produce convulsions that he thought would alleviate schizophrenic and manic-depressive psychosis; it was later found to be most effective for mood problems and is still in use today as the most effective treatment for depression.

1939 - World War II begins and Hitler decrees that patients with incurable medical illnesses be killed because they are 'biologically unfit.' Approximately 270,000 patients with mental illness are killed by physicians and medical personnel complying with the Nazi doctrine of racial purity

1946 - Congress passes the National Mental Health Act to provide generous funding for psychiatric education and research. This act leads to the creation in 1949 of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

Also in 1946, Anna Freud, the youngest daughter of Sigmund Freud, publishes The Psychoanalytic Treatment of Children, which introduces basic concepts in the theory and practice of child psychoanalysis.

1950 - In Childhood and Society, Erik Erikson restates Freud's concepts of infantile sexuality and develops the concepts of 'adult identity,' and 'identity crisis.'

1952 - The French psychiatrists Jean Delay and Pierre Deniker report that chlorpromazine (Thorazine®) calms hospitalized chronic schizophrenic patients without causing clinically significant depression. The drug is called 'hibernotherapie' because patients became quiet, like animals in hibernation.

1953 - B.F. Skinner publishes Science and Human Behavior, describing his theory of operant conditioning, an important concept in the development of behavior therapy.

1957 - The first effective pharmacologic treatment for depression is reported with the work of Kuhn on the tricyclic antidepressant imipramine and of Loomer, Saunders and Kline on the monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitor iproniazid.

1960, 1963 - Scientists at the American pharmaceutical company Hoffmann-LaRoche develop the benzodiazepines chlordiazepoxide (Librium®, 1960) and diazepam (Valium®, 1963), which becomes widely prescribed for patients with nonpsychotic anxiety.

Also in 1963, Action for Mental Health recommends that the care of the mentally ill be moved from large mental hospitals to community mental health clinics. That same year, 'deinstitutionalization' is mandated by the Community Mental Health Centers Act.

1970 - The Food and Drug Administration approves lithium to treat patients with manic-depressive illness. The Australian psychiatrist John Cade had shown 20 years earlier (1949) that lithium quieted manic patients, and Mogens Schou in Denmark had confirmed Cade's findings in a double-blind study in 1954.

1970's - William Masters and Virginia Johnson's work revolutionizes knowledge and attitudes about sex. They revise Freud's theories of orgasm, report on sexual relationships in geriatrics, and find that counseling helps most people with sexual dysfunctions. Sex therapy as a psychiatric specialty follows.

1973 - Due to new clinical information and political pressure from the National Gay Task Force, the American Psychiatric Association changes the diagnosis of homosexuality from a disease to a condition that can be considered a disease only when subjectively disturbing to the individual.

1979 - National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) is founded in 1979 as an organization for schizophrenic patients and their families. NAMI has grown into the most effective group advocating for the mentally ill with legislators and the public.

1981 - The epidemic of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) and HIV virus infections presents mental health professionals with a series of challenges including: treating patients' symptoms of anxiety and depression and differentiating organic symptoms from symptoms of HIV brain infection.

1987 - The serotonin-specific reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) fluoxetine (Prozac®), paroxetine (Paxil®), and sertraline (Zoloft®) are developed by several American pharmaceutical companies to treat patients with depression.

1988 - John Kane, an American psychiatrist, demonstrates that clozapine is effective in schizophrenic patients who do not find help through other antipsychotic drugs; the FDA approves the drug in 1989.

1990 - The Americans with Disabilities Act is established to prohibit discrimination based on disability, including mental disability.

1994 - The American Psychiatric Association publishes the forth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which provides standardized definitions of mental disorders.

1996 - Congress passes the Mental Health Parity Act, which states that annual and lifetime dollar limits on mental health care cannot be stricter than for other forms of health care.

1999 - First White House Conference on Mental Health convened to address the understanding and treatment of mental health disorders.


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Last updated February 20, 2012

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