What is a Rest Cure?

Rest healing sometimes in massage included.

The rest cure was a treatment for what was considered hysteria in women. It enjoyed great popularity in the 19th century as a way of treating women with mental illnesses that could later be called generalized anxiety disorder or major depression. It can also apply to upper-class women who were simply exhausted with the tasks of raising children, supervising large families, or who suffered from postpartum depression after the birth of a child.

Rest cures applied almost exclusively to women’s health problems.

The Doctor. Silas Weir Mitchell developed the rest cure. He practically imprisoned women for up to two months and gave them little contact with the outside world. In the first few weeks, the women could not occupy their minds by reading or doing small activities. Most were not even allowed to roll over in bed, suggesting they may have been restrained. Often, according to Dr. Mitchell, on the fifth or sixth day, most women became “treatable” and could not resist the imposed monotony. This statement suggests that many women likely struggled with this treatment during their first few days in prison.

Rest healing has been used as a treatment for postpartum depression.

Mitchell clearly saw some success with her treatment, which also included daily massage and probably clitoral stimulation, as was common in the treatment of hysteria. It’s fair to say that most women today would rate the rest cure as a horrible punishment, inflicted on women who were possibly just anxious or suffering from a mental illness. Since husbands were often allowed to make decisions regarding their wives, a husband’s perception could determine whether a woman would tolerate such treatment. No wonder many women considered cooperation a means of escaping Mitchell’s cure.

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A full night’s rest can help people feel cured of many physical ailments.

One of the most interesting indictments of the rest cure is Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s piece of fiction, The Yellow Wallpaper. The work describes from a first-person perspective the gradual madness of a woman undergoing this treatment. Gilman even sent a copy to Dr. Mitchell, who did not respond. Gilman’s central character is actually driven mad by the treatment that supposedly restores her sanity. Her loneliness and her total separation from her family are persistent and constitute an effective argument against this cure.

In the 19th century, a healing rest treatment was primarily given to women with mental health issues that would today be categorized as depression or anxiety.

However, Gilman errs because the rest cure is unlikely to cause insanity. Its application can worsen the condition of someone with a mild to moderate psychological problem. Today, even the institutionalization of people with mental illness focuses not on loneliness, but on integrating the sick person into regular activities such as daily group therapy, classes on coping strategies, and daily activities like therapeutic art.

Rest cures may involve using warm water to relax.

The treatment of Dr. Mitchell can also be classified as extraordinarily sexist, as the rest cure was almost always applied to women. As women were considered by many to be very different from men, and also guided by their hormones, this treatment was to be applied to what were considered diseases of the female mind. The “cure” was directed at women due to a lack of basic understanding of women. It almost always applied to women of the middle and upper classes as well, as working women were considered more robust and less susceptible to hysteria.

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In the 19th century, doctors included clitoral stimulation in their treatment of what was known as hysteria.

With the advent of therapy developed by Freud, Jung and Adler, the rest cure finally sank into obscurity as a bad medicine. A greater understanding of hormonal function in women has helped to develop treatments for both men and women. Current understanding of the brain’s chemical action has also helped to develop drugs that can significantly alleviate anxiety or severe depression. Mitchell’s rest cure is now considered by many to be yet another violation of women’s rights at a time when they could not be their own advocates for equal treatment by members of the medical community.

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