The Founder of Modern Psychiatry

Johann Weyer used his compassion and a pioneering approach to mental illness to oppose the witch-craze of early modern Europe.

Johann Weyer, History of Magic, woodcut 1577.
Johann Weyer, History of Magic, woodcut 1577.

The misunderstanding and persecution of disturbed people was a fact of life in 16th-century Europe and many who suffered were hunted down as witches. Against this injustice there stood one man: Johann Weyer (1515-88), the first physician to specialise in mental illness, or 'melancholy' as it was then termed. Weyer (also known as Wier) fought the practice of punishing or killing suspected witches, contending that these 'melancholics' were not demonic but mentally ill.

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