Image Courtesy of India Times
We all have days that we’d rather stay in bed than face the world. Call it a case of the blues. While we all experience a case of the blues from time to time, some are unfortunate to experience them more intensely and for long periods of time ranging from weeks to even years.
This in very simple terms is what you call depression. Depression occurs in many different states and affects your physical and mental health. There are a number of illnesses or disorders associated with depression ranging from the likes of anorexia to anxiety, insomnia and so much more.
A common expression of depression that has been there from time immemorial is suicide which is actually what compelled me to research and write about the topic. Just this past month alone I have heard about 3 suicide case and that is just close to home, there are so many more out there and the reasons they give in their goodbye letters are just so trivial they make you wonder, “people are starving, others are homeless and you kill yourself because of this?”
Ignorant as that question sounds, so many of us have thought it, some of us have actually voiced it but the truth is, you can never really know what is going through someone’s head that leads them to take their lives.
Those that commit suicide have probably been depressed for a while and I’d like to assume that, that insignificant thing written on the goodbye note was just a trigger. Most of us take this act as an act of cowardice. You were afraid to face the world so you took the easy way out, but rather than viewing this act as an act of cowardice, I got to thinking, most of us fear death more than anything, right?
So maybe those who commit suicide are actually braver than we make them out to be; I don’t know and in search of answers I stumbled upon two books, ‘Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness’ and ‘A first Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links between Leadership and Mental Illness’. I was looking for information on depression but I landed on how some of the greatest leaders of all times battled depression some even becoming great because of it.
A first Rate Madness, albeit a good biographical collection of various leaders, felt a little bit shallow and at one point I even felt like Nassir Ghaemi, the author, was defending actions of the likes of Hitler.
That might not have been the case.
Lincoln’s Melancholy however, I found intriguing. It not only delved deep into Lincoln’s life from his childhood to his time in office but also proves in depicting Lincoln as a man who suffered from depression.
I found it rather enlightening as it made me view depression on a whole different perspective. It’s not news that some of the greatest leaders suffered from depression and that to some it was an asset. Lincoln’s Melancholy is a great example of this.
Here are five world renowned leaders who are probably the most well known to have suffered from depression:
1. Abraham Lincoln
Background Image Courtesy of History.com
Joshua Wolf Shenk through his book, ‘Lincoln’s Melancholy’ shows us how Lincoln managed to turn his depression into an asset. It is probably because of this infamous piece of biography that when we speak about leadership and depression, Lincoln is among the first people that come to mind.
In the first chapter, Joshua mentions that depression can be inherited and that as much as Lincoln’s depression was as a result of personal tragedies he faced as a kid such as seeing his mother’s ailment and death, the death of his uncle and aunt, the death of his sister and his father’s absence, it could have also been inherited. Biological predisposition is what the author calls it.
‘”Predisposition” means an increased risk of developing an illness. As opposed to traditional Mendelian inheritance — in which one dominant gene or two recessive genes lead to an illness or trait — genetic factors in psychiatric illnesses are additive and not categorical.’
Lincoln’s friends at times feared that he would take his life due to how extreme his depression got.
“As a young man he talked more than once of suicide, and as he grew older he said he saw the world as hard and grim, full of misery, made that way by fate and the forces of God.” The Atlantic.
2. Princess Diana
As I was looking for more information to support the fact that she suffered from depression, I found an article from India Today with the title “She was bulimic, depressed and suicidal. Why couldn’t Princess Diana’s Midas Touch turn her life to gold?”
What shook me the most was that according to that and many other articles, there was a series of tapes found (‘13 reasons why’ much?). The series of tapes had been availed to Andrew Morton the author of ‘Diana: Her True Story’. According to the book, Diana in her tapes, talks about her pressure she received in her rather stressful position as the Princess, her husband’s infidelity that began before their marriage and continued well after and her battle with Bulimia.
Makes you think twice about wanting to become a princess right?
Having read from a few articles (I am yet to read the book) about what Diana was going though, it’s no shock that she too had tried to commit suicide by slitting her wrists, something I unfortunately know too well about but that is a story for another day.
3. Winston Churchill
A well know journalist who described his depression as a black dog, “My black dog seems quite away from me now – it is such a relief. All the colors come back into the picture.”
While reading about the- oh- so- great Winston Churchill, I came across another term, Manic Depression. Manic Depression is what we call today, Bipolar Disorder. Bipolar disorder is a mental disorder that causes people suffering from it to have alternating moods of abnormal highs and abnormal lows. The abnormal highs or periods where the person has elevated moods are called mania whereas the lows are called depression.
Winston Churchill would have periods where he was extremely low, unproductive and borderline depressed then there were periods he was in extremely high spirits, periods when he wrote enough literature to surpass Shakespeare and Dickens combine and even win a Nobel peace prize.
4. Adolf Hitler
This post was supposed to be up by the weekend, he is the reason as to why it wasn’t. I know, typical right? Blame everything on the bad guy why don’t you.
I debated for awhile on whether to write about him or not because the issue of his mental health has been the cause of great controversy for a very long time.
Background Image Courtesy of Globe and Mail
The question that many ask is was Hitler crazy or just evil?
Now I am no psychiatrist nor can I ascertain whether the man was crazy or not but there have been a number of articles that have stated so from claims that he had a personality disorder to the fact that he might have been Schizophrenic.
It didn’t help that most of what was written on A First Rate Madness sounded like mere speculation and did not really provide proof to back up the state of Hitler’s mental health.
I thought Nassir Ghaemi would provide answers that have been sought out for ages but I was mistaken. I do applaud him for trying though and choosing to take on these murky waters.
5. Martin Luther King
Having have read about the man and idolized him since I was a youngin’ it was quite a shock to learn that he too had suffered from depression at one point in his life. According to A First Rate Madness, Martin Luther King was clinically depressed. It is also a well known fact that he had even attempted to take his life twice in his adolescence.
I came across an article from Medscape that suggests the same. According to this article, Dr. King exhibited symptoms of Mania Depression where he had highly energetic periods and periods where he’d be very depressed. Just like Winston Churchill, Dr King in his highly energetic periods would be very active, giving numerous speeches and sermons and then he’d have periods where he was almost always exhausted, slept a lot and could not concentrate.
These two books and the numerous articles written on the depressive states of these and many more leaders just go to show that even the best of us go through depression. The case of Princess Diana clearly shows that even those whom we think have it all battle their demons. Another thing that I got was the difference between crisis and non-crisis leadership. Lincoln’s Melancholy serves to show how depression fueled one man’s greatness while A First Rate Madness suggests that the leaders who suffered from depression and other mental illnesses were very good in times of crisis while those that were termed as healthy were just as good in times of non-crisis but failed in the former.
All things said, the two books definitely push you to look at depression on a whole other perspective.