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Arch Hellen Med, 26(4), July-August 2009, 536-543


The mentally ill as a "spectacle" on the streets of Athens

1History of Medicine, Medical School,
21st Psychiatric Clinic, Medical School, University of Athens, Athens, Greece

The history of psychiatry, as well as its achievements and progress, includes also some dark pages, when the mentally ill were demonstrated as a spectacle in the hospitals and the outpatient departments, and those wandering homeless were mistreated and used as a major form of amusement for the people. In Athens, where the origins of scientific psychiatric care date from the end of the 19th century, the numbers of patients were gradually increasing from that time, and the subject of the mental disease made its appearance in the newspapers and the pages of civic literature. The city streets were often transformed into scenes of free entertainment, where the audience participated with wild instincts and cruelty against the "mad". Journalists and authors described such scenes and presented the social attitudes and behaviours towards psychic illness, aiming to sensitize their readers. The review of these texts reveals the dominant feelings of those times and especially the lack of social acceptance and the rejection of psychiatric patients, in comparison with the contemporary attempts for their assimilation and rehabilitation.

Key words: History of psychiatry, Mental illness, Psychiatric care, Social attitudes.

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