Before the Holocaust
There is certainly a stigma surrounding people with mental illness and how the public views them. Even in prehistoric times, historians believe that trepanation (drilling holes into the skull of a patient) was used to try to cure mental disabilities. A trend of violent treatments toward mentally ill individuals was in place during this period before and during the holocaust. From bloodletting to lobotomy, the public has constantly searched for a cure to mental illness. Many of these violent, harsh treatments came about because little was understood about mental illness. Mentally ill individuals were feared and outcast from society. This led to the establishment of mental institutions in the early 18th century. These mental institutions were places where the mentally ill would be boarded and separated from society. Although, the inhumane treatment was not put to an end. Many activists like Dorothea Dix worked to improve the ethical treatment of the mentally ill.
However, in the latter half of the 1800s, the mentally ill (“feebleminded”) as they were called) were blamed for much of the poverty and crime. In 1869, Sir Francis Galton established a hereditary link for mental illness and, thus, the age of eugenics began. People began to believe that medicating and treating the mentally ill was interfering with Darwin’s ideas of natural selection. They believed that the reproducing of the mentally ill was responsible for inflating the costs of schools, prisons, hospitals, and special homes (Harbour). Soon, the United States began to pass sterilization laws to limit the mentally ill from reproducing. These views were held in the United States and Europe. In Germany, sterilization was becoming a practice; however, the idea of killing the mentally ill did not come about until the nearing of the Holocaust, and was only possible through the use of propaganda.