The Nursing of Nervous Diseases

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Abstract

Editor's note: From its first issue in 1900 through to the present day, AJN has unparalleled archives detailing nurses’ work and lives over more than a century. These articles not only chronicle nursing's growth as a profession within the context of the events of the day, but they also reveal prevailing societal attitudes about women, health care, and human rights. Today's nursing school curricula rarely include nursing's history, but it's a history worth knowing. To this end, From the AJN Archives highlights articles selected to fit today's topics and times.

As Donna Sabella points out in this month's Mental Health Matters column, “There has certainly been progress in our ability to understand and manage depression…. Yet we still have a long way to go in improving the mood and well-being of those who are struggling to feel better.” That statement is made strikingly clear when reading this September 1916 article by Alice Shepard Gilman.

It's true that patients with “nervousness” no longer spend six to 12 months hospitalized, nor are they “put to bed at once” and “fed to the limit of their capacity.” However, though sedatives and hypnotics are no longer considered first-line treatment, they are still among the most commonly prescribed psychotropic drugs. We continue to provide nonpharmaceutical nursing care to ease anxiety or insomnia and lessen the need for medication. And certain aspects of the nurse's role have also stayed constant: the importance of observation, the use of distraction, and standing “nearer the patient than the doctor himself, having [the patient's] full trust and confidence.”

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