Hysteria is undoubtedly the first mental disorder attributable to women, accurately described in the second millennium BC, and until Freud considered an exclusively female disease. Over 4000 years of history, this disease was considered from two perspectives: scientific and demonological. It was cured with herbs, sex or sexual abstinence, punished and purified with fire for its association with sorcery and finally, clinically studied as a disease and treated with innovative therapies. However, even at the end of 19th century, scientific innovation had still not reached some places, where the only known therapies were those proposed by Galen. During the 20th century several studies postulated the decline of hysteria amongst occidental patients (both women and men) and the escalating of this disorder in non-Western countries. The concept of hysterical neurosis is deleted with the 1980 DSM-III. The evolution of these diseases seems to be a factor linked with social “westernization”, and examining under what conditions the symptoms first became common in different societies became a priority for recent studies over risk factor.
We intend to historically identify the two dominant approaches towards mental disorders, the “magic-demonological” and “scientific” views in relation to women: not only is a woman vulnerable to mental disorders, she is weak and easily influenced (by the “supernatural” or by organic degeneration), and she is somehow “guilty” (of sinning or not procreating). Thus mental disorder, especially in women, so often misunderstood and misinterpreted, generates scientific and / or moral bias, defined as a pseudo-scientific prejudice.
19-20th centuries’ studies gradually demonstrate that hysteria is not an exclusively female disease allowing a stricter scientific view to finally prevail. 20th century’s studies have also drawn on the importance of transcultural psychiatry, in order to understand the role of environmental factors in the emotive evolution and behavioral phenomenology and in modifying the psychopathology, producing the hypotheses of a modification to hysteria from the increase of mood disorders.
1. Ancient Egypt
The first mental disorder attributable to women, and for which we find an accurate description since the second millennium BC, is undoubtedly hysteria.
The first description referring to the ancient Egyptians dates to 1900 BC (Kahun Papyrus) and identifies the cause of hysterical disorders in spontaneous uterus movement within the female body more