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Bénédict Augustin Morel

Born 1809-11-22
Died 1873-03-30

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French psychiatrist, born November 22, 1809, Vienna; died March 30, 1873, Saint-Yon.

Biography of Bénédict Augustin Morel

In 1860 Bénédict Augustin Morel introduced the term dementia praecox to refer to a mental and emotional deterioration beginning at the time of puberty. The disorder was renamed schizophrenia in 1908 by the Swiss psychologist Eugen Bleuler (1857–1939)

Morel was born in Vienna to French parents. He studied in Paris, and while a student earned his living teaching English and German. He obtained his doctorate in 1839 and in 1841 became assistant to the psychiatrist Jean Pierre Falret (1870–1854) at the Salpêtrière. Falret is remembered for describing manic-depressive psychoses i 1854.

During 1843 to 1845 travelled in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, and Italy, in particularly studying their lunatic asylums. In 1848 he was appointed director of the lunatic asylum Asile d'Aliénés de Maréville at Nancy. of Maréville, where he introduced important reforms for the improvement of the situation of the mentally ill, particularly regarding the use of restraining methods. At Maréville asylum he studied the mentally retarded, searching their family histories and examining such influences as poverty and early physical illnesses.

In 1856 he became director of the asylum at Saint-Yon (Seine-Inférieure), and made a scientific journey to England in order to study no-restraint methods. Following his return he became a member of a Paris commission set down to investigate the causes of struma/goitre and cretinism, and to find a therapy for the cure of these disturbances.

Morel was a friend of the physiologist Claude Bernard and an admirer of Charles Darwin’s work on evolution. In 1859, Morel, impressed with Darwin, formulates the theory of "degeneration" of mental problems from early life to adulthood. Morel saw mental deficiency as the end stage of a process of mental deterioration that included mental illness. He articulated his theory of mental illness in Traité des maladies mentales (1860) in which he coined the term démence-precoce to refer to mental degeneration. Morel sought explanation for mental illness in heredity, although he later came to believe that external agents such as alcohol and drugs could also afflict the course of mental deterioration.

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