Mental Health Awareness: A Timeline

From exorcism, to bloodletting, and lobotomy, mental health treatment has seen a wide range of change over the ages. However, we could say that it wasn’t until 1949 that mental health sciences began to evolve towards what we have today. In honor of continuing to break down the negative stigmas associated with mental health, I will go through a timeline with you that marks major milestones in mental health awareness and its role in our society.


  • Lobotomy wins a Nobel Prize in physiology 
  • Australian psychiatrist, John Cade, publishes one of the first papers on lithium and its use to treat acute mania 
    • The U.S. FDA did not approve the use of lithium until 1970
  • The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is founded
  • Mental Health Awareness Month is founded by the NIMH
    • Mental Health Awareness Month and NIMH find purpose in educating the public about the relevance of mental illness in society, as well as ending the social stigma that surrounds mental illness and its treatment


  • Chlorpromazine heralds the age of antipsychotics
    •  Replaced treatments such as frontal lobotomies, insulin coma, and electroconvulsive therapy


  • More antipsychotics hit the market
    • Haloperidol, trifluperazine, thioridazine and fluphenazine 


  • Clozapine is proven to be an antipsychotic with no disabling side effects 
    • To this day Clozapine continues to be the number one choice of medication to treat schizophrenia 


  • The Mental Retardation Facilities and Community Mental Health Centers Construction Act is pushed into law
    • This, paired with the rising numbers of antipsychotics on the market, marks the beginning of the deinstitutionalization process
    • Deinstitutionalization was the push to have mentally ill individuals stay in their communities to be treated locally rather than in large asylums which were often underfunded, overpopulated, and overall a negative environment for many patients 


  • The NIMH establishes centers for research on schizophrenia, child and family mental health, and suicide, as well as crime and deliquency, minority group mental health problems, urban problems, and later, rape, aging, and technical assistance to victims of natural disasters 
  • The National Center for Prevention and Control of Alcoholism and the Center for Studies of Narcotic and Drug Abuse are established as part of the NIMH


  • The National Alliance for Mental Illness is founded
    • Originally a grassroots group, NAMI was founded by those who had family members affected by mental illness
    • Founded to help educate communities about mental illness and how to best support those who suffer from it so that everyone has a chance to a live a full and happy life
    • They value hope, inclusion, empowerment, compassion, and fairness


  • Metrazol therapy is withdrawn from use by the FDA
    • Metrazol is a powerful stimulant that when injected causes seizures and coma. While some hospitals discontinued this treatment by the 1940s, other practitioners continued this treatment some as late as through the 1950s until electroconvulsive therapy became popular


  • Antipsychotics continued…
    • Drugs like risperidone, olanzapine, quetiapine, and ziprasidone hit the market, and much like Clozapine they prove to be “atypical” or result in no disabling side effects


  • World Mental Health Day is created by the World Health Organization
    • This day is used to promote global mental health awareness as well as ending the stigma attached to mental illness 


  • The suicide hotline is created
    • Phone #: 1800-273-8255
    • A free, 24/7 crisis hotline intended for individuals to call whenever they are in the midst of a suicidal crisis or emotional distress


  • The Wellstone and Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act passes into law 
    • Made it so insurers who provide mental health coverage could not put limitations on benefits that are not equal to limits on other medical care coverage  

It’s safe to say that mental health awareness has come a long way since 1949, and even more so from the days of witchcraft and demonic possession. However it’s important to realize that there’s still a lot that can be done to advocate for those who suffer from mental illness. As a universal community of human beings we should all support each other to the happiest, healthiest versions of ourselves. That means changing the way we speak to others about mental illness and how we promote mental health treatment. Mental illness and its treatment is just as diverse as the world we live in today. No matter what we go through, no matter the severity, we need to remember it’s important, and has an impact on how we live our lives. Let’s each and every day, know that we are not alone in our struggles to live a mentally and physically healthy life.   

Written By Katy Egan

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