Mental Health Treatment in the 1900s

Updated July 19, 2017

The 20th century was a time of progress in the field of mental health treatments. From dismal beginnings sprang hope and help through grassroots reforms, new discoveries and research.

Early Practices

Mental health treatment in the early 1900s included institutionalisation, psychoanalytical therapy, malaria-induced fever, insulin-induced comas, lobotomy and primitive forms of electroshock therapy. These early practices were not successful at preventing chronic illness.


Calls for reform and more humane treatment had already begun in the 1800s. These continued in the 1900s with the establishment of the National Mental Health Association and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.


In 1949, Dr. John Cade discovered lithium as an effective treatment for bipolar disorder--then known as manic depression. Other types of medications including antidepressants, benzodiazepines and antipsychotics were developed for the treatment of various mental health conditions.


The National Institute of Mental Health, established in 1949, continues to conduct research into the causes and treatments of mental illness. The National Human Genome Research Institute, established in 1989, helped map the human genome. This may have implications on future diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental illness.

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About the Author

Tracy Anglada is an award-winning mental health author and has been a special needs parenting writer since 2001. Anglada's articles have been published by "Pediatrics for Parents," "Calgary's Child" and "The Balanced Mind Foundation." Anglada's books have been recommended as resources by Harvard, Scholastic, and AACAP.