When looking 'Insane' got you committed

This text was written with certainty and authority, 140 years ago. It doesn't go as far as to say a diagnosis could be based entirely on physical appearance, though it would have done no favors for an eccentric person who found himself in front of a judge and happened to have a hand in his coat.

James Hamblin MD, health editor for the Atlantic, recently wrote an article chronicling the 1883 book "Types of Insanity". I do love The Atlantic and the random, thought-provoking articles they often write. Their style of writing short, digestible articles can also sometimes leave the topic slightly under-developed. It appears that the point of the article is to humorously state "look how ridiculous our old mental health system was." Let me be the first to say that our knowledge of mental illness psychopathology and treatment has come a long way in 140 years. However, this idea of recognizing and diagnosing mental illness based on appearance may not have been too far off.

Both, my own experience working with individuals experiencing mental illness and current research support the mind-body connection. This theory postulates that our mind significantly influences our body (e.g. physical symptoms of depression) and our body influences our mind (e.g. yoga helps to improve depression). That the pathways between our mind and body are intimately connected and therefore influence each other. In addition to the research supporting mind-body connection, we also know more about the connection between our internal emotions and facial expression (The work of Paul Ekman has documented this phenomenon).

While I am certainly not saying that facial expression or physical appearance should be used as a tool for diagnosing mental illness, I am contending that it also shouldn't surprise us if mental health issues are exhibited in our appearance.

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(The Atlantic)