Psychiatry is a modern religion and the asylum is its old church.
Starting in the late 19th century, psychiatrists routinely crafted new, disease categories to understand the mad mind: anorexia, hysteria, schizophrenia, depression, gender dysphoria, anxiety. By the 1950s, the psychiatric establishment neatly assembled its shaky ideas about the human mind, diagnostic categories, legal and moral stature, and treatment plans in a holy book called The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The manual armed psychiatry’s willful adherents with a gospel to contain and control the insane.
Early psychiatry used both brutal and creative methods of treatment in that old church: incarceration, orgasm, forced labour, Freudian psychoanalysis, insulin shock therapy, meditation, invasive surgery, electroconvulsive therapy. In the 1960s, psychiatry found likely allies in pharmaceutical labs and corporate towers. Joining hands with burgeoning chemical corporations obsessed with maximizing profits like Bayer, Pfizer and Merck, psychiatry added pill-based treatment to its reformist program. Under this new rubric, madness was the product of chemically-imbalanced, malfunctioning brains. And biochemical psychiatry was the solution.