Chapter 1. Historical Roots of the Concept of Mental Illness

  1. Ihsan M. Salloum Professor of Psychiatry Director2,3 and
  2. Juan E. Mezzich Professor of Psychiatry Director Past President4,5
  1. Paul Hoff Professor

Published Online: 11 MAY 2009

DOI: 10.1002/9780470743485.ch1

Psychiatric Diagnosis: Challenges and Prospects

Psychiatric Diagnosis: Challenges and Prospects

How to Cite

Hoff, P. (2009) Historical Roots of the Concept of Mental Illness, in Psychiatric Diagnosis: Challenges and Prospects (eds I. M. Salloum and J. E. Mezzich), John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, Chichester, UK. doi: 10.1002/9780470743485.ch1

Editor Information

  1. 2

    Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse: Treatment and Research, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, FL, USA

  2. 3

    Section on Classification, Diagnostic Assessment and Nomenclature, World Psychiatric Association, FL, USA

  3. 4

    International Center for Mental Health and Division of Psychiatric Epidemiology, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York University, NY, USA

  4. 5

    World Psychiatric Association, USA

Author Information

  1. Department of General and Social Psychiatry, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 11 MAY 2009
  2. Published Print: 27 MAR 2009

Book Series:

  1. World Psychiatric Association Evidence and Experience in Psychiatry Series

Book Series Editors:

  1. Helen Herrman

Series Editor Information

  1. WPA Secretary for Publications, University of Melbourne, Australia

ISBN Information

Print ISBN: 9780470725696

Online ISBN: 9780470743485



  • mental illness and health concept - historical roots;
  • psychiatry and psychotherapy - and political, historical and social developments in society;
  • Middle Ages and Renaissance - setbacks in terms of understanding of ‘madness’;
  • context of enlightenment - psychiatry and its emergence as a medical discipline;
  • Enlightenment period - strong focus on rationality and measurement;
  • Wilhelm Griesinger and turning point from romanticism in psychiatry - to rise of modern empirical neurobiological research into mental illness;
  • degeneration theory - highly influential psychiatric concept;
  • Ernst Kretschmer and concept of multidimensional approach to psychiatry;
  • National Socialist Germany - barbaric abuse of psychiatric power;
  • anthropological psychiatry and concept of operationalized psychiatric diagnosis


This chapter contains sections titled:

  • Introduction

  • Ancient Greece to the Enlightenment

  • The Emergence of Psychiatry

  • The Nineteenth Century

  • Degeneration Theory

  • Early Twentieth Century

  • Developments to the Present Day

  • Conclusion

  • Note

  • References