What’s in a Name?

Neurasthenia and homosexuality were both once classified as mental illness. D for Diagnosis (BBC Radio 4) reports on ever-changing labels and considers how today’s diagnoses will be seen in the future.

Ever since the 17th Century philosopher Rene Descartes introduced the concept of dualism; the idea that our psyche or minds are separate from our bodies, the mind-body split in healthcare has had an enormous impact on the way mental health problems are recognised and labelled.

In this first of three programmes, Claudia Hammond explores the history of classification for diagnoses of the mind and discovers that diagnostic labels are very much artefacts of the cultural and social preoccupations of the time.

At the Wellcome Library in London, historian of psychiatry Dr Jen Wallis charts the modern classification of mental health conditions and the development of psychiatry as a medical specialism. She highlights pseudoscientific classifications like drapetomania, a psychiatric diagnosis given to enslaved Africans fleeing captivity and neurasthenia, an all-encompassing diagnosis of fatigue very much linked to the rapid technological advances of the 19th Century, as evidence of the permanent flux in what counts as mental illness.

You can listen to the programme here

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