Historical Analysis of Mental Illnesses


HistoricalAnalysis of Mental Illnesses

A reference tomental illnesses can easily be found throughout the course ofhistory. However, the gradual evolution of mental illnesses has notbeen progressive or linear, but rather more clinical. The behaviormay either be considered to be normal or abnormal would depend on thesurrounding context. Historically, abnormal behavior or that which islikely to deviate from the expectations or sociocultural norms of aparticular culture and time, are used to control or silence specificindividuals or groups.

Because of that, the view from less cultural relativism of anabnormal behavior, which is focused instead on the behavior, is athreat to an individual, resulted in a lot of pain and suffering. Italso interferes with a person`s work responsibility or a person`sclose relationship with friends and family. The paper, therefore,examines historical analysis of mental illnesses in the UnitedStates. Two films, &quotThe Snake Pit&quot (1948) &quotThe ThreeFaces of Eve&quot (1957), will be studied, while the films` themesrelated to mental illnesses used to draw relevance, references, andillustrations. The paper will also connect the themes from the filmswith Robert Whitaker`s &quotMad in America: Bad Science, BadMedicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill.&quot

HistoricalAnalysis of Mental Illnesses: &quotThe Snake Pit&quot (1948)

&quotThe SnakePit&quot (1948) is among the first films to deal with the history ofmental illness as one of its main themes. The film is based on thenovel, Mary Jane Ward`s &quotThe Snake Pit,&quot which was praisedas &quot… the type of a fresh book, which makes Ward`s novelappear unrewarding and dull&quot (Ward, 1950). Anatole Litvak, thefilm`s director, adheres strictly to the book. He refrained fromsensationalizing the title for cinematic purposes. &quotThe SnakePit`s&quot subject is compelling on its own since it deals withmental health in a more sympathetic and sensitive manner.

The film firsttells a story about Virginia Cunningham the role played by OliviaHavilland, also happens to have been diagnosed with mental illness.Virginia is hospitalized in a state facility in New York. She ismoved from one ward to another in the same state facility. She wouldoften backslide in her treatment process. She is sometimes reassignedto a different ward because of her abuse or incompetence on the staffside. The film, according to Zimmerman (2003), is way ahead of itstime. This is because it draws more attention to some of thecontroversial treatment processed and conditions that are verycrowded at the facility. The patient is treated by the doctor (Dr.Kik), with a compassionate approach, while he applies thepsychoanalysis theory.

Drawing aconnection from Robert Whitaker`s &quotMad in America,&quotlunatics were kept in foul-smelling, gloomy cells, while the&quotkeepers&quot ruled over them freely by use if the whips. Here,individuals diagnosed with mental disorders, in this case, thelunatics, were considered &quotUnruly&quot (Whitaker, 2002). Unrulypatients represented patients will little to be associated with, andbecause of that, they were regularly &quotchained to iron rings, putinside the cells` walls, and restrained in ankle-irons and restrainedwith handcuffs. All these actions towards mentally ill individualsrecount the America`s psychiatric history until 1950.

The history ofmental fields` era, between 1900 and 1960, is also the era ofuncertainty the same way Dr. Kik was unsure of what to do with hispatient, Virginia. Whitaker appeared to be unsure of whether mentalillness was in existence. He described it as &quotloosely applied toindividuals whose desperation elicited emotional problems.&quotAlso, &quotThe Snake Pit&quot draws the connection from thissection by looking how the Americans mental illness history wasperceived to be &quotmyth of mental illness nonsense.&quot Thehistory of American medicine, in essence, was developed a whole newprocess for diagnosing mental illnesses from a range of people.

There is also aparticular connection over stereotypes placed upon mental illnesses.Virginia in the film &quotThe Snake Pit,&quot had a restrictiverepetition over the stereotyped patterns of interests, behaviors, andabnormal activities he was involved (Ward, 1950). With her mentalillness, behaviors and stereotypes included turning off lights,placing his bed beside the window, experience emotional outburst, andhyperactivity.

The history ofmental illness is marred with social issues and overcrowded mentalpatients in medical facilities. In &quotThe Snake Pit&quot forexample, social issues are identified many of which are acharacteristic of what the society is today. The viewer is exposed tothe film of some of the conditions at the Jupiter Hills. Jupiter Hillis a mental hospital, and one of the social issues in the hospital isovercrowding, incompetent staff, isolation, and controversialtreatment (Kemp, 2007). The subject of mental illness is drawn fromthe film back in the history of the United States, the highpopulation seen in such mental facilities, and such issues are whathappen today.

In connection with Robert Whitaker`s book &quotMad in America,&quothe went ahead and shade light over the society`s description ofmentally ill patients as those with &quotSchizophrenia&quot at thesame time as error-based individuals with psychiatry. The historicalconsortium of the American society was based on the lack of treatmentof mentally ill patients (Whitaker, 2002). For instance, RobertWhitaker`s description of over 50 years of American scientistsundertaking experiments over mental illnesses is evidence that theAmerican history over such illnesses were intentionally used toacerbate symptoms and study results.

The Snake Pit (1948) themes best suit topics from Robert Whitaker`stopics related to mental illnesses. The topic of the novel by JaneWard, &quotThe Snake Pit,&quot created a radical change in early1950`s. The radical change was because of the societal pressure fromthose individuals diagnosed with mental illnesses. The film fitsdemocratic ideals of the American history while becoming optimisticof the societal tenor of times. Any mental illness, for instance, wasfeared in the society considering people toyed with the possibilityof not having the self-control to handle the mental illness.

In the America`s history, nowhere does Robert Whitaker acknowledgethat some of the approaches are a treatment where desperationmeasures during desperate times. The America`s overcrowded mentalwards, according to Robert`s Whitaker`s explanation, were filled withthe continuous increase in numbers of mentally ill patients for whomthe treatments were made available (Whitaker, 2002). A close study ofthe film reveals how nurses in the early 50s handled patients withmental illness. Here, the illnesses are regarded to be untouchable,and the perception placed on the mental health, not only was mindfulover hard labor, and thus serves a reminder in a more relaxed mentalhospital environment.

Throughout the film, particular scenes draw attention, especiallywhen it comes to overcrowding issue in the mental hospital. The issueof overcrowding is more complicated by some of the pressures thatinclude releasing the patients before the stipulated time. &quotTheSnake Pit&quot is a film released in the postwar and post-Depressionera. More emphasis was placed on the domestic challenges and thequality of life for the working-class individuals. Then, PresidentHarry Truman claimed in 1954 that there was the need to establish anew and a better world (Kemp, 2007). The world that the eternaldignity of humanity is more respected (postwar America). The film&quotThe Snake Pit&quot paid more attention to the challenges ofmental illness in the America`s society and also the need foreffective understanding and proper treatment.

The mentally ill patients are not handled well by the physicians asis shown by the doctor, Dr. Kik. The doctor employs unpleasanttreatment, subtle humiliation, and mind-numbing routine by subjectingpatients to it. The film shows Virginia`s realization that thesadistic nurse is only focused on her normal living outside themedical environment. The film draws illustrations from RobertWhitaker`s book &quotMad in America&quot to show how the perceptionof patients with mental illness was handled in the 1950`s.

Another theme includes freedom and confinement as is seen in thefilm. The theme draws illustrations from the film when the patient,Virginia, is shifted from one mental facility to another. However,most of the patients are voluntary because confinement comes withfreedom and safety. In the film, it is evident that the world isdivided into the world outside (freedom) and asylum inside(confined). In the mental wards, freedom and confinement are alsofelt. It was a characteristic of the United States` mental health`sinstitutions. The film draws instances where freedoms and strugglesare experienced at the mental facility.

The history of mental illness in the United States was characterizedby the patients facing cruelty and isolation from the family. Thefilm &quotThe Snake Pit&quot showcased the same issues facing thementally ill patients. During the postwar America, Ward (1950)observed that it could have turned out to be easy for individualsrelating to the same desire of being home and near their loved ones.The film shows a touchy scene, which involves mentally ill patientsdancing and immediately, the dancing comes to a standstill for thesake of listening to the one woman patient singing along to the song&quotGoing Home&quot (Kemp, 2007). The camera appears to movetowards Virginia, who is sobbing and tears rolling down her chubbycheek. She wonders whether she should be heading home anytime soon.From this scene, it is evident that these patients are experiencingmoments of sadness and a longing that is associated with isolation pfthe mental hospital.

The 1948 film &quotThe Snake Pit&quot is about mental illnesses,which is characterized by Eve White, one of the lead actors. Thewhole perception of the type of illness in the history of UnitedStates compares differently with what is perceived today. Some of thethemes drawn from the film could easily be compared with Whitaker`s&quotMad in America&quot range of relatable topics as ishighlighted by the doctor. The history is best evidenced by the film,and how the mental illnesses are an admittance of how the disorderexists in today`s society. The book established semantics due to theavoidance of admitting of how the medicine made available, when used,could assist mentally ill patients.

HistoricalAnalysis of Mental Illnesses: &quotThe Three Faces of Eve&quot(1957)

The history ofmental illness in the United States is best explained in the film&quotThe Three Faces of Eve.&quot The 1957 film is about a meekhousewife, Eve White, who is suffering from memory lapses andblackouts. Her husband takes her to one of the psychiatrists, Dr.Curtis Luther. The doctor discovers that Eve White is suffering froma mental disease Multiple Personality Disorder. When under stress,the woman becomes &quotEve Black,&quot a very rebellious version ofthe normal woman (Thigpen &amp Cleckley, 1957). When her husbandthreatens to abandoned her, the woman and the doctor must figure outwhat exactly her differences in personality.

In connection with Whitaker`s book &quotMad in America, Eve White,and the doctor represented the country`s history with the manner inwhich they handled Eve husband`s perceived the society and itsmadness (Whitaker, 2002). It was not far off when the mentally illpatients were started to be thought of as more than outcasts.Instead, the American`s society began to think about mental illnessas part of an inner capacity for these people to gain control overthemselves after vigorous mental treatment.

The 1950s history of such mental disorder in the United States was acharacteristic of many housewives. According to Thigpen &ampCleckley (1957), the movie was released six years before BettyFriedan`s release of her novel &quotThe Feminine Mystique.&quot Thenovel explained bit by bit the lives of the majority of the 1950s`housewives, the kind of lives lived with a lot of desperation. In thefilm &quotThe Three Faces of Eve,&quot Eve`s various personas areevident. One personality of Eve White is that woman with a pureheart, meek, mousy, and dutiful.

One of the themes draws from &quotMad in America&quot is that ofIsolation and Abandonment, which is also evident in the film &quotTheThree Faces of Eve.&quot The various personalities evidenced by EveWhite are the reason she faced isolation and abandonment by herhusband. However, most of the patients are voluntary becauseisolation comes with freedom, but with abandonment. In the film, itis evident that the world is divided into the world outside(isolation) and asylum inside (abandoned). In the mental facility,isolation and abandonment are also felt. The two themes are arepresentation of the United States` mental health`s institutions(Thigpen &amp Cleckley, 1957). The film draws instances whereisolations and abandonment are experienced within the facility.

According to Kemp (2007), with all the debauchery Eve White faces,Eve Black, on the other hand, is smarter of the two personalities.Eve Black knows more of Eve White. The dual personalities areevidenced by the collapse and mental strain of the woman having todivide oneself into two to please friends and family. The history ofmental illness in the United States is more about the 1950s roles ofhousewives. The history presented a role of women as a sex symbol,children nurturer, and a perfect friend.

More is draw from the connection the film &quotThe Three Faces ofEve&quot has with Whitaker`s &quotMad in America.&quot Whitakertalks about a situation that freedom for isolation is characterizedby the lead actor, McMurphy. Similarities are drawn between McMurphyand Eve White in &quotThe Three Faces of Eve&quot where he exudes apersonality that is free-spirited even he is undergoing mentalsuffering (Kemp, 2007). The personality makes up the theme thatcharacterizes postwar America. In addition, the connection with thefilm comes about with the nurses` unwillingness to allow McMurphy beconfined in that kind of mental state.

In the film The &quotThree Faces of Eve,&quot the personalitydisorder talked about is more of expression of one of the charactersand a bit of suppression. The expression is also more of representingthe United States` history of the way individuals diagnosed with amental illness handled the situation. The expression is evident asthe film drags on. Eve White turns out to either be hate orsympathize with Ralph. The husband also becomes an unsympatheticcharacter. The theme of abandonment is evident when he abandons hisentire family and picking up a fight with his wife, Eve. When hebecame mad, he slaps &quotEve Black,&quot which is obvious the ideahas been brewing for some time (Kemp, 2007). Suppression becomesevident here since his violent side is eventually unleashed becauseof her wife`s other personality, which is wild.

Once known as the Multiple Personality Disorder, DissociativeIdentity Disorder is one with more than one facet of personalities asis seen in Eve White. Back then, the United States failed to handlemental illness. The inability to the condition resulted in manypeople diagnosed with the illness without proper knowledge of thedisorder (Thigpen &amp Cleckley, 1957). In the film, &quotThe ThreeFaces of Eve&quot the prime example was Eve White diagnosis of thediagnosis of the disorder. The doctor did not point out to the exactcause, even after bringing forth the idea that it was as a result ofchild abuse.

Even today, the diagnosis of Multiple Personality Disorder is stillconsidered to be very reliable the same way it was in the 1950sAmerica. For instance, there are still cases until now that arestill reported in the United States mental health facilities. Kemp(2007) cautioned that it could be as a result of the fact that thepsychiatrists in the United States would more likely point out thedisorder on people. The history of the mental illness in the UnitedStates was characterized by many women than men diagnosed with thecondition, for example, Eve White, instead of her husband. Or maybe,the disorder diagnosed could a mere figment of people`s imagination,and Eve White`s attempt to quit her marriage.

The Three Faces ofEve (1957) main themes are well-suited suit to specific topics inRobert Whitaker`s book &quotMad in America,&quot which are relatedto the diagnosis of mental illnesses. One of the topics, &quotMoralTreatment in America,&quot established radicalism in the early 50`s.The change was as a result of societal pressure from particularindividuals that had been diagnosed with mental illnesses. The film,&quotThe Three Faces of Eve,&quot perfectly fits some ideas of thehistory of the United States American, while being optimistic of thesocial happenings. Multiple Personality Disorder, for instance, was athreat to the society because people played with the chances of nothaving the total self-control to contain the mental illness.

The disorder`s influence in the society in the early 50s cannot beunder-estimated. Apart from the diagnosis of different disorders, theUnited States opened up many mental hospitals. In connection with thebook &quotMad in America,&quot some of the themes involved acharacterization of multiple personality disorders (Whitaker, 2002).It not gestures towards the abuse in the American society, but alsobecause of the censorship in the late 1950s. It also failed for anydepictions and awareness of the doctors` activities, which includeencouragement and hypnosis of many personalities in one person.

More so, the support of the epidemic in the 1950s America compareswell with the entire population of patients diagnosed with thedisorder. The author acquires relevance and illustrations from aparticular situation at what the rate of hospitalization today is andover five decades before (Whitaker, 2002). The author also comparesthe entire number of mentally ill patients in the United States`history with the patients of today without having to consider thepopulation.

In conclusion, the history of mental illnesses in the United Statesis shown clearly in the film “The Three Faces of Eve” (1957). Thecharacter Eve White was diagnosed with a Multiple PersonalityDisorder, and drawn common themes from Whitaker`s &quotMad inAmerica.&quot These are the themes of abandonment and isolationtaking the center stage in connection with the film. The history ofmental illness gets illustrations in a way that the film reveals manyfeatures that were a characteristic of the American history of mentalillness over the inability to acquire information about the same. Theinability to acquire relevant information is a characteristic ofsocial isolation and abandonment over all people that are diagnosedwith the disorder.


Kemp, D. R. (2007). Mental health in America: A referencehandbook. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO.

Thigpen, C. H., &ampCleckley, H. M. (1957). The three faces of Eve. New York:McGraw-Hill.

Ward, M. J. (1950). The snake pit. New York: Random House.

Whitaker, R. (2002). Mad in America: Bad science, bad medicine,and the enduring mistreatment of the mentally ill. Cambridge, MA:Perseus Pub. Retrieved fromhttps://kindle.amazon.com/work/mad-america-medicine-enduring-mistreatment/B000AED8B4/0465020143