Psychiatry can be said to have originated in the 5th century BC, while the first hospitals for the mentally ill were created in the Middle Ages. The 18th century saw the development of psychiatry as a recognized field and mental health institutions came to utilize more elaborate, as well as some more humane, treatments. The 19th century saw a massive increase in patient populations. The 20th century saw a rebirth of a biological understanding of mental disorders as well the introduction of disease classifications and psychiatric medications. An anti-psychiatry movement emerged in the 1960s and a shift led to the dismantling of state psychiatric hospitals in favor of community treatment. There have been changes in psychiatric diagnoses and treatments and in the balance between the biological and social sciences. Research has continued looking into the origins, classification, and treatment of mental disorders.
"Psychiatry, more than any other branch of medicine, forces its practitioners to wrestle with the nature of evidence, the validity of introspection, problems in communication, and other long-standing philosophical issues" (Guze, 1992, p.4).
The term psychiatry (ψυχιατρική), coined by Johann Christian Reil in 1808, comes from the Greek “ψυχή” (soul or mind) and “ιατρός" (healer or doctor). It refers to a field of medicine focused specifically on the mind, aiming to study, prevent, and treat mental disorders in humans. It has been described as an intermediary between the world from a social context and the world from the perspective of those who are mentally ill.
Those who practice psychiatry are different than most other mental health professionals and physicians in that they must be familiar with both the social and biological sciences. The discipline is interested in the operations of different organs and body systems as classified by the patient's subjective experiences and the objective physiology of the patient. Psychiatry exists to treat mental disorders which are conventionally divided into three very general categories; mental illness, severe learning disability, and personality disorder. While the focus of psychiatry has changed little throughout time, the diagnostic and treatment processes have evolved dramatically and continue to do so. Since the late 20th century, the field of psychiatry has continued to become more biological and less conceptually isolated from the field of medicine.
In the United States, psychiatry is one of the specialties which qualifies for further education and board-certification in sleep medicine.
The first psychiatric hospitals were built in the medieval Islamic world from the 8th century. The first was built in Baghdad in 705, followed by Fes in the early 8th century, and Cairo in 800. Unlike medieval Christian physicians who relied on demonological explanations for mental illness, medieval Muslim physicians relied mostly on clinical observations. They made significant advances to psychiatry and were the first to provide psychotherapy and moral treatment for mentally ill patients, in addition to other forms of treatment such as baths, drug medication, music therapy and occupational therapy. In the 10th century, the Persian physician Muhammad ibn Zakarīya Rāzi (Rhazes) combined psychological methods and physiological explanations to provide treatment to mentally ill patients. His contemporary, the Arab physician Najab ud-din Muhammad, first described a number of mental illnesses such as agitated depression, neurosis, priapism and sexual impotence (Nafkhae Malikholia), psychosis (Kutrib), and mania (Dual-Kulb).
In the 11th century, another Persian physician Avicenna recognized 'physiological psychology' in the treatment of illnesses involving emotions, and developed a system for associating changes in the pulse rate with inner feelings, which is seen as a precursor to the word association test developed by Carl Jung in the 19th century. Avicenna was also an early pioneer of neuropsychiatry, and first described a number of neuropsychiatric conditions such as hallucination, insomnia, mania, nightmare, melancholia, dementia, epilepsy, paralysis, stroke, vertigo and tremor.
Psychiatric hospitals were built in medieval Europe from the 13th century to treat mental disorders but were utilized only as custodial institutions and did not provide any type of treatment. Founded in the 13th century, Bethlem Royal Hospital in London is one of the oldest psychiatric hospitals. By 1547 the City of London acquired the hospital and continued its function until 1948.
Universities often played a part in the administration of the asylums. Due to the relationship between the universities and asylums, scores of competitive psychiatrists were being molded in Germany. Germany became known as the world leader in psychiatry during the nineteenth century. The country possessed more than 20 separate universities all competing with each other for scientific advancement. However, because of Germany's individual states and the lack of national regulation of asylums, the country had no organized centralization of asylums or psychiatry. Britain, like Germany, also lacked a centralized organization for the administration of asylums. This deficit hindered the diffusion of new ideas in medicine and psychiatry.
In the United States in 1834, Anna Marsh, a physician's widow, deeded the funds to build her country's first financially-stable private asylum. The Brattleboro Retreat marked the beginning of America's private psychiatric hospitals challenging state institutions for patients, funding, and influence. Although based on England's York Retreat, it would be followed by speciality institutions of every treatment philosophy.
In 1838, France enacted a law to regulate both the admissions into asylums and asylum services across the country. By 1840, asylums as therapeutic institutions existed throughout Europe and the United States.
However, the new and dominating ideas that mental illness could be "conquered" during the mid-nineteenth century all came crashing down. Psychiatrists and asylums were being pressured by an ever increasing patient population. The average number of patients in asylums in the United States jumped 927%. Numbers were similar in England and Germany. Overcrowding was rampant in France where asylums would commonly take in double their maximum capacity. Increases in asylum populations may have been a result of the transfer of care from families and poorhouses, but the specific reasons as to why the increase occurred is still debated today. No matter the cause, the pressure on asylums from the increase was taking its toll on the asylums and psychiatry as a specialty. Asylums were once again turning into custodial institutions and the reputation of psychiatry in the medical world had hit an extreme low.
This period of time saw the reemergence of biological psychiatry. Psychopharmacology became an integral part of psychiatry starting with Otto Loewi's discovery of the first neurotransmitter, acetylcholine. Neuroimaging was first utilized as a tool for psychiatry in the 1980s. The discovery of chlorpromazine's effectiveness in treating schizophrenia in 1952 revolutionized treatment of the disease, as did lithium carbonate's ability to stabilize mood highs and lows in bipolar disorder in 1948. While psychosocial issues were still seen as valid, psychotherapy was seen to be their "cure." Genetics were once again thought to play a role in mental illness. Molecular biology opened the door for specific genes contributing mental disorders to be identified. By 1995 genes contributing to schizophrenia had been identified on chromosome 6 and genes contributing to bipolar disorder on chromosomes 18 and 21.
Electroconvulsive therapy was one treatment that the anti-psychiatry movement wanted eliminated. They alleged that electroconvulsive therapy damaged the brain and it was used as a tool for discipline. While there is no evidence that brain damage was a result of electronconvulsive therapy, there have been isolated incidents where the use of electroconvulsive therapy was threatened to keep the patients "in line." The prevalence of psychiatric medication helped initiate deinstitutionalization, the process of discharging patients from psychiatric hospitals to the community. The pressure from the anti-psychiatry movements and the ideology of community treatment from the medical arena helped sustain deinstitutionalization. Thirty-three years after deinstitutionalization started in the United States, only 19% of the patients in state hospitals remained. Mental health professionals envisioned a process wherein patients would be released into communities where they could participate in a normal life while living in a therapeutic atmosphere.
In 1972, psychologist David Rosenhan published the Rosenhan experiment, a study analyzing the validity of psychiatric diagnoses. The study arranged for eight individuals with no history of psychopathology to attempt admission into psychiatric hospitals. The individuals included a graduate student, psychologists, an artist, a housewife, and two physicians, including one psychiatrist. All eight individuals were admitted with a diagnosis of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Psychiatrists then attempted to treat the individuals using psychiatric medication. All eight were discharged within 7 to 52 days. Rosenhan's study concluded that individuals with no presence of mental disorders could not be distinguished from those suffering from mental disorders. While critics such as Robert Spitzer placed doubt on the validity and credibility of the study, they also conceded that the consistency of psychiatric diagnoses needed improvement.
Psychiatry, like many medical specialties, has a continuing, significant demand for research investigating its related diseases, classifications, origins, and treatments. Psychiatry falls into biology's fundamental belief that disease and health are different elements of an individual's adaptation to an environment. But psychiatry also recognizes that the environment of the human species is complex and includes physical, cultural, and relational elements. In addition to external factors, the human brain must recognize or organize an individual's hopes, fears, desires, fantasies and feelings. Psychiatry's difficult task is the attempt to envelop the understanding of these factors so that they can be studied both clinically and physiologically.
Psychiatric diagnoses take place in a wide variety of settings and are performed by many different health professionals. Therefore, the diagnostic procedure may vary greatly based upon these factors. Typically, though, a psychiatric diagnosis utilizes a differential diagnosis procedure where a mental status examination and physical examination is conducted, pathological, psychopathological and psychosocial histories obtained, neuroimages or other neurophysiological measurements are taken, and personality tests or cognitive tests may be administered. In addition psychiatrists are beginning to utilize genetics during the diagnostic process. Some endophenotypes being researched may predispose certain individuals to certain conditions.
The stated intention of diagnostic manuals is typically to develop replicable and clinically useful categories and criteria, to facilitate consensus and agreed upon standards, whilst being atheoretical as regards etiology. However, the categories are nevertheless based on particular psychiatric theories and data; they are broad and often specified by numerous possible combinations of symptoms, and many of the categories overlap in symptomology or typically occur together. While originally intended only as a guide for experienced clinicians trained in its use, the nomenclature is now widely used by clinicians, administrators and insurance companies in many countries.
Whatever the circumstance of a person's referral, a psychiatrist first assesses the person's mental and physical condition. This usually involves interviewing the person and often obtaining information from other sources such as other health and social care professionals, relatives, associates, law enforcement and emergency medical personnel and psychiatric rating scales. A mental status examination is carried out, and a physical examination is usually performed to establish or exclude other illnesses, such as thyroid dysfunction or brain tumors, or identify any signs of self-harm; this examination may be done by someone other than the psychiatrist, especially if blood tests and medical imaging are performed.
Like all medications, psychiatric medications can cause adverse effects in patients and hence often involve ongoing therapeutic drug monitoring, for instance full blood counts or, for patients taking lithium salts, serum levels of lithium, renal and thyroid function. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is sometimes administered for serious and disabling conditions, especially those unresponsive to medication. The efficacity and adverse effects of psychiatric drugs have been challenged
The close relationship between those prescribing psychiatric medication and pharmaceutical companies has become increasingly controversial along with the influence which pharmaceutical companies are exerting on mental health policies.
Also controversial are forced drugging and the "lack of insight" label. According to a report published by the U.S. National Council on Disability,
Involuntary treatment is extremely rare outside the psychiatric system, allowable only in such cases as unconsciousness or the inability to communicate. People with psychiatric disabilities, on the other hand, even when they vigorously protest treatments they do not want, are routinely subjected to them anyway, on the justification that they "lack insight" or are unable to recognize their need for treatment because of their "mental illness." In practice, "lack of insight" becomes disagreement with the treating professional, and people who disagree are labeled "noncompliant" or "uncooperative with treatment.
Psychiatric inpatients are people admitted to a hospital or clinic to receive psychiatric care. Some are admitted involuntarily, perhaps committed to a secure hospital, or in some jurisdictions to a facility within the prison system. In many countries including the USA and Canada, the criteria for involuntary admission vary with local jurisdiction. They may be as broad as having a mental health condition, or as narrow as being an immediate danger to themselves and/or others. Bed availability is often the real determinant of admission decisions to hard pressed public facilities. European Human Rights legislation restricts detention to medically-certified cases of mental disorder, and adds a right to timely judicial review of detention.
Patients may be admitted voluntarily if the treating doctor considers that safety isn't compromised by this less restrictive option. Inpatient psychiatric wards may be secure (for those thought to have a particular risk of violence or self-harm) or unlocked/open. Some wards are mixed-sex whilst same-sex wards are increasingly favored to protect women inpatients. Once in the care of a hospital, people are assessed, monitored, and often given medication and care from a multidisciplinary team, which may include physicians, psychiatric nurse practitioners, psychiatric nurses, clinical psychologists, psychotherapists, psychiatric social workers, occupational therapists and social workers. If a person receiving treatment in a psychiatric hospital is assessed as at particular risk of harming themselves or others, they may be put on constant or intermittent one-to-one supervision, and may be physically restrained or medicated. People on inpatient wards may be allowed leave for periods of time, either accompanied or on their own.
In many developed countries there has been a massive reduction in psychiatric beds since the mid 20th century, with the growth of community care. Standards of inpatient care remain a challenge in some public and private facilities, due to levels of funding, and facilities in developing countries are typically grossly inadequate for the same reason.