How Was Mental Illness Viewed in Ancient Greece?

Mental illness has been a topic of interest and concern for centuries. The ancient Greeks were no different in their approach to understanding and treating mental disorders.

View of Mental Illness in Ancient Greece:

In ancient Greece, mental illness was viewed as a divine punishment or curse from the gods. It was believed that individuals with mental illnesses were possessed by evil spirits or demons. Therefore, treatment involved exorcism, prayer, and sacrifice to appease the gods.

However, some philosophers such as Hippocrates challenged this view and proposed that mental illness had physical causes rather than supernatural ones. He believed that an imbalance of the four bodily fluids (blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile) could lead to mental disorders.

Treatment of Mental Illness in Ancient Greece:

The treatment of mental illness in ancient Greece varied depending on the severity of the disorder and the beliefs of the individual seeking treatment. Those who believed in the supernatural causes of mental illness sought out priests or healers who performed exorcisms and offered sacrifices to the gods.

Hippocrates and his followers treated mental disorders with a more scientific approach. They used techniques such as bloodletting, purging, and diet changes to correct imbalances in bodily fluids. Additionally, they advocated for natural remedies like exercise, rest, and fresh air.

The Stigma Surrounding Mental Illness:

Despite these differing views on the causes and treatments of mental illness in ancient Greece, there was still a stigma surrounding those with mental disorders. Individuals with these conditions were often ostracized from society and considered outcasts.

This stigma persisted throughout history until modern times when advancements in medicine shed light on the biological basis of many mental disorders.


In conclusion, while ancient Greeks had varying views on mental illness, it is clear that they recognized its existence as a significant problem affecting individuals’ lives. While the supernatural view of mental illness may seem outdated, it was their way of understanding and coping with the unknown. It is essential to continue to research and understand the complexities of mental illness to provide better treatment options and eliminate the stigma surrounding it.