Early Tudor medical opinion believed there were 5 types of mental disease: MELANCHOLIA (depression and apathy); MANIA (violent action); DELIRIUM (abnormal behavior accompanied by fever); AMENTIA (lack or complete loss of mental abilities); and PHRENITIS (inflammation of the brain.) Also, epilepsy was believed to be a mental illness. (Also, there was a disease called lycanthropy – a fascination with cemeteries and wild animals.) All of these were supposedly caused by an abundance of black bile in the body. The bile caused evil ‘humors’ to flood the brain, thus resulting in mental illness.
In some cases, herbal remedies were prescribed (such as peony root worn around the neck.) Soothing music and warm baths were also popular (and remain so today!) Blood-letting was far more popular, however; it was believed to be as effective with mental diseases as physical. Combined with purgatives, bleeding reduced the ill to some degree of weakness – and quiet. In extreme cases, the evil ‘humor’ was drained from the brain in a process called trepanation.
Bloodletting (or blood-letting) is the withdrawal of blood from a patient to cure or prevent illness and disease. Bloodletting was based on an ancient system of medicine in which blood and other bodily fluid were regarded as “humors” that had to remain in proper balance to maintain health.