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The link between genius and mental illness
Gifted, successful people with depression, bipolar and anxiety disorders
"Men have called me mad," wrote Edgar Allan Poe, but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence...whether much that is glorious--whether all that is profound--does not spring from disease of thought..."
Many people have long shared Poe's suspicion that genius and insanity
are entwined, writes psychiatrist Kay Redfield Jamison, international
authority on mental illness. Many poets, painters and composers throughout
history have had depression or mania.
Here's a glimpse of just a few of the gifted and successful figures of our times who have lived with mental illness.
Anna Marie Patty Duke Pearce, Award-winning star of television, Broadway and film; author and spokesperson for mental health: After years of turmoil, she was diagnosed with manic depression (bipolar disorder) "She credits Lithium with keeping her symptoms under control. "No more crazy highs, no more suicidal lows. It's given me a life!" Anna said about her successful treatment.
Winston Churchill 1874-1965, Prime Minister (U.K.): "Had he been a stable and equable man, he could never have inspired the nation. In 1940, when all the odds were against Britain, a leader of sober judgment might well have concluded that we were finished," wrote Anthony Storr about Churchill's bipolar disorder in Churchill's Black Dog, Kafka's Mice, and Other Phenomena of the Human Mind.
Brian Wilson, founding member, producer, composer, and arranger for The Beach Boys: "I went through times that were so scary that I wasn't sure I'd make it through," he recalls in a story in The Los Angeles Times: But he returned triumphant to the stage, having "emerged from his darkest, most paralyzing blue period to again celebrate his music - and the human spirit - with his fans."
Munsch, beloved and best-selling children's author, of such delightful and
irreverent books as Mortimer, The Paper Bag Princess and
Love You Forever. About grade seven or eight, things started
getting weird and wonky, he says. I'd feel great for two weeks,
then horribly depressed for two weeks.
" Munsch says he's not classic bipolar, I'm depressed more than I'm up. Antidepressant medication
has worked well for Munsch, softening his moods but not stifling his creativity.
Art Buchwald, writer, Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist: Buchwald's career, built upon his razor-sharp wit, includes 30 books and syndication in 500+ newspapers. He talks openly about "the black pit" of his mental illness, having been hospitalized for depression in 1963 and for manic depression in 1987. Since his recovery, he has used his high-profile status to educate the public about mental health issues, especially about stigmatization of mental illness in the workplace and the ways it affects employee promotion, job security and work relationships.
Carrie Fisher, actress and author renowned as Princess Leia in Star Wars and daughter of Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, was diagnosed as manic-depressive at age 24. In her book Postcards from the Edge and the film it inspired, she wrote about her rehab, electroshock treatment and recovery from her illness and her drug addictions. She has started in countless films and television shows and her memoirs and novels have been best-sellers.
Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States
Ernest Hemingway: Winner of the Pulitzer Prize (1952), and the Nobel Prize in Literature (1954), the novelist's suicidal depression is examined in The True Gen: An Intimate Portrait of Ernest Hemingway by Those Who Knew Him by Denis Brian.
Mike Wallace, Co-Editor of 60 Minutes "On two or three occasions, I came very, very close [to suicide]. But, when I got the right help and treatment, I was able to put that behind me....There's nothing, repeat, nothing to be ashamed of when you're going through a depression. If you get help, the chances of your licking it are really good .[Having battled depression] I'm more compassionate, I'm more understanding and, ultimately, my life has been a lot fuller because I experienced this," he says in an interview with CBSCares.
Dave Matthews, chart-topping musician, composer: "I was depressed. It was not a good time for me," he told Rolling Stone magazine. "I was feeling remarkably alone I don't want to be someone who writes about how sad I am, I'd rather write with some sort of strength. Otherwise, I don't think there's any gift - or offering - being made. I would like to be an inspiring force." A new album, with an entirely new sound, essentially saved Dave's life; he finally felt good about what he'd accomplished.
Judy Garland, singer, Oscar-winning actress: Performing from the age of two, she starred in countless musical films and thrilled audiences with her live performances. She led a life of great highs and deep lows; through it all though, her inestimable talent shown.
Pulitzer Prize winning novelist: After being fired from McGraw-Hill for
tossing balloons out an office window, he co-founded the Paris Review.
His books included The Confessions of Nat Turner,
about black slavery, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1968,
and Sophie's Choice,
which was made into a powerful and moving film.
For more, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Page updated August 1, 2009