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7 Historical Figures Posthumously Diagnosed with Illnesses

7 Historical Figures Posthumously Diagnosed with Illnesses

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1. Michelangelo—Arthritis

Artist Michelangelo Buonarroti was still working on sculptures and architectural projects just a few days before his death at age 88, and he may have done it despite having hands that were riddled with arthritis. The recent diagnosis comes from of a group of medical researchers who analyzed portraits of the Renaissance master from different points in his life. Unlike early paintings, the portraits completed when he was between the ages of 60 and 65 depict his left hand as limp and deformed—a symptom of the degenerative joint disease osteoarthritis. The team found further evidence of the ailment in personal correspondence in which the elderly artist complains of “gout” and notes that he was unable to reply to a letter “because my hand refused to write.” Michelangelo’s condition may have been accelerated by the decades of chiseling and painting required to produce such masterpieces as the Pieta, the David and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but the researchers also note that his commitment to hard work may have helped him keep the use of his hands until late in his life.

2. Julius Caesar—Epilepsy or Mini-Strokes
Evidence that the famed Roman general and dictator suffered from ill health is found in the writings of several ancient historians. The chronicler Plutarch describes Caesar as being afflicted with “distemper in the head” and notes that he once fell into a fit in which “his body trembled, and some of the papers he held dropped out of his hands.” Suetonius, meanwhile, says Caesar was struck by a similar sickness on two different occasions during his military campaigns. Both Plutarch and Suetonius suggest that Caesar’s symptoms were caused by epilepsy, a chronic neurological disorder that was well known to the ancients. The Romans called the disease by various names including “morbus caducus” (“the falling sickness”), and it was widely believed at the time that its victims were touched by the gods. While Caesar’s symptoms—dizziness, depression, seizures—have traditionally been ascribed to epilepsy, a more recent study from 2015 argued that he might have actually suffered from a string of Transient Ischemic Attacks, or mini-strokes.

3. King George III—Porphyria

George III ruled Britain for more than half a century and presided over the Seven Years’ War and the American Revolution, but throughout his life he also suffered recurring bouts of insanity that left him incapacitated and occasionally confined to a straitjacket. In the 1960s, researchers combed through the King’s medical records and concluded that he may have suffered from porphyria, a genetic condition that affects the blood and produces such symptoms as abdominal and muscle pain, anxiety, hallucinations and discolored urine—all of which George was known to exhibit. Porphyria has since become the most popular explanation for the King’s madness, but in recent years the theory has been criticized by scholars who argue that bi-polar disorder or some other mental illness is the more likely candidate. Meanwhile, a 2005 analysis of hair samples found the even if King George did suffer from porphyria, his symptoms were likely exacerbated by arsenic poisoning from his doctor-prescribed medicines.

4. Harriet Tubman—Narcolepsy

The woman responsible for leading hundreds of slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad may have also suffered from a chronic sleep disorder. The ailment likely stemmed from an incident during her childhood on a Maryland plantation, when an overseer threw a lead weight at another slave and instead hit Tubman on the head, fracturing her skull. She experienced headaches and seizures for the rest of her life, but she also showed signs of narcolepsy, a brain condition which can cause rapid and unavoidable bouts of sleep. Tubman was known to go through “spells” and trance-like states, and one witness reported that she would drift off into “a heavy sleep even when conversing, from which she will after a time arouse and resume the thread of her narrative where she left off.” While her symptoms suggest she probably had narcolepsy, some have also suggested that she suffered from cataplexy, a condition that causes sudden muscle weakness and paralysis.

5. Samuel Johnson—Tourette Syndrome

18th century author Samuel Johnson is renowned for penning witty essays and compiling one of the first comprehensive English-language dictionaries, but many medical researchers also consider him an early case study in Tourette syndrome. Throughout his life, acquaintances noted that the writer exhibited the kinds of involuntary verbal and physical tics associated with the neurological disorder including repetitively shaking his head and rubbing his left knee with the palm of his hand. “He made various sounds with his mouth,” his friend and biographer James Boswell wrote, “sometimes giving a half whistle, sometimes making his tongue play backwards, from the roof of his mouth, as if clucking like a hen….” Johnson was also known to exhibit compulsive behaviors such as counting his steps and touching every light post he passed on the street. Despite being one of the most talented and respected authors of his era, his symptoms occasionally led to public ridicule. One friend wrote that upon witnessing Johnson’s gesticulations as he walked down a London street, a group of “men, women, and children gathered around him, laughing.”

6. Jane Austen—Addison’s Disease

In 1816, the author of such beloved novels as “Emma” and “Pride and Prejudice” came down with a host of mysterious ailments including exhaustion, back pain, skin discoloration, “bilious attacks” and fever. Just one year later, she was dead at the age of 41. Much speculation has been devoted to Jane Austen’s sickness in the years since, with the most common diagnosis being that she suffered from Addison’s disease, a malfunction of the adrenal glands that wasn’t known to medicine until several years after her death. Though slow in its onset, the disorder is known to cause changes in skin color during its late stages, which may explain Austen’s claims that her complexion had turned “black and white and every wrong color.” Other scholars maintain that the novelist’s symptoms appeared far too sporadically to be Addison’s disease, and instead argue that she may have suffered from tuberculosis, lymphoma or even arsenic poisoning.

7. Abraham Lincoln—Depression

For most of his life, the sixteenth president was plagued by a feeling of gloom and despair that he dubbed the “hypo.” He often spoke of suicide as a young man, and once told an acquaintance that he never carried a pocketknife out of fear of hurting himself. Lincoln dealt with his infrequent breakdowns through humor, but his blue moods later continued during his time in the White House, when he faced the stresses of the Civil War and the untimely death of his 11-year-old son, Willie. Contemporaries often remarked on the Great Emancipator’s sorrow. His friend Henry Whitney noted that, “No element of Mr. Lincoln’s character was so marked, obvious and ingrained as his mysterious and profound melancholy.” The severity of Lincoln’s “hypo” remains a point of contention among historians today, but many believe that he may have suffered from clinical depression. Author Joshua Wolf Shenk has even published a full-length book on the subject titled “Lincoln’s Melancholy.”

7 Famous People With Syphilis, Gonorrhea, or Other STDs

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection that is caused by a spirochete called Treponema pallidum.

About 60% of cases affect men who have sex with men or with both women and men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2016, a total of 27,814 cases of syphilis were reported in the US.

You face an increased risk of acquiring this infection if you:

  • are infected with HIV, the virus which causes AIDS
  • are a man who has sex with men
  • have sex with multiple partners
  • engage in unprotected sex &ndash this means having oral, anal, or vaginal sex without a condom.


It is a sexually transmitted disease that is primarily transmitted through oral, vaginal, or anal intercourse. Gonorrhea can also be passed from a pregnant woman to her baby.

In 2016, a total of 468,514 cases were reported in the United States. If left untreated, it can result in skin sores, arthritis, and brain or heart infection.

The bacterium responsible for causing this STD is called Neisseria gonorrhoeae.

Common symptoms of gonorrhea include:

  • bleeding between periods
  • pain when urinating
  • a thick green or yellow discharge from the penis or vagina.
  • having a sexual partner who is infected with gonorrhea
  • being sexually active and under 25 years old
  • having human immunodeficiency virus
  • being a man who has sex with men
  • having sex with new or multiple sex partners
  • engaging in unprotected anal, vaginal, or oral sex.


It is the most frequently reported sexually transmitted disease in the United States.

Chlamydia is caused by bacteria called Chlamydia trachomatis. It can infect both women and men.

Every year there were over 1.5 million cases of chlamydia in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • painful sexual intercourse in women (dyspareunia)
  • pain in the testicles
  • pain in the lower abdomen
  • yellow or green discharge from the vagina or penis
  • burning sensation during urination.
  • men having sex with men
  • excessive alcohol or illegal drug use
  • a history of chlamydia or other STIs
  • incorrect and inconsistent condom use
  • multiple or frequent changes in sex partners.


It is an infection that is caused by a virus, either herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) or herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1).

You can get it from having anal, vaginal, or oral sex with someone who has it.

An estimated 16% of people between the ages of 14 and 49 have this sexually transmitted disease.

Symptoms for both females and males include the following:

  • fever
  • body aches
  • headaches
  • swollen lymph glands
  • a crust may appear over the sores within seven days of the outbreak
  • the infected site commonly starts to itch before the actual appearance of blisters
  • blisters may appear in the mouth and on your face, lips.
  • sex at an early age
  • HIV infection
  • prior sexually transmitted infections
  • not using a condom
  • frequent changes in sex partners
  • sex with a person who has herpes.

7 historical figures who wrestled with depression (and how they eased their suffering)

By Bruce Levine
Published January 21, 2015 9:30AM (EST)

Abraham Lincoln (AP/Alexander Gardner)


This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

What did Abraham Lincoln, Georgia O’Keeffe, William James, Sigmund Freud, William Tecumseh Sherman, Franz Kafka, and the Buddha have in common? According to their biographers, all suffered from depression. And they utilized antidotes—some of them forgotten in the modern age— that helped them overcome and transform their depression without doctors.

1. Abraham Lincoln (1809 -1865)

In Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness, biographer Joshua Wolf Shenk reports that Lincoln experienced two major depressive breakdowns at age 26 and age 31, which included suicidal statements that frightened friends enough to form a suicide watch. When he was 32, Lincoln wrote, “I am now the most miserable man living.” Lincoln’s longtime law partner William Herndon observed about Lincoln, “Gloom and sadness were his predominant state,” and “His melancholy dripped from him as he walked.” And another Lincoln friend reported, “Lincoln told me he felt like committing suicide often.”

Lincoln’s Antidotes: Abraham Lincoln, along with other famous sufferers of depression such as Winston Churchill and Mark Twain, used humor as an antidote to depression. To boost his spirits, Lincoln told jokes and funny stories. Lincoln said, “If it were not for these stories—jokes—jests I should die they give vent—are the vents of my moods and gloom.” Shenk concludes that “Humor gave Lincoln protection from his mental storms. It distracted him and gave him relief and pleasure . . . Humor also gave Lincoln a way to connect with people.” In addition to humor, Shenk discovered that Lincoln utilized other major depression antidotes, including his love of poetry and a strong belief that his life had an important purpose.

2. Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986)

Artist Georgia O’Keeffe suffered significant periods of depression during her life, according to biographers Roxana Robinson (Georgia O’Keeffe: A Life) and Hunter Drohojowska-Philp (Full Bloom: The Art and Life of Georgia O’Keeffe). At age 46, O’Keeffe was admitted to Doctors Hospital in New York City following symptoms of anxiety and depression that included weeping spells and not eating and not sleeping. At the time, her breakdown was attributed to the stress of not completing a Radio City Music Hall mural, but her biographers now conclude that O’Keeffe was caught between fear of public failure and her rebellion against her control-freak husband, the renowned photographer Alfred Stieglitz, 23 years older than O’Keeffe and who had an affair with a woman almost two decades younger than O’Keeffe.

O’Keeffe’s Antidotes: O’Keeffe’s biographers do not report any great positive transformations due to her hospitalization. Instead, an essential part of her recovery was travel, first to Bermuda and then Lake George in New York where she ate and slept well. Later, she would also enjoy herself in Maine and Hawaii. O’Keeffe renewed her regular summer trips to New Mexico, and biographer Roxana Robinson concluded, “Warmth, languor and solitude were just what Georgia needed.” In addition to travel, another antidote for O’Keeffe was her relationship with the poet and novelist Jean Toomer. Ultimately, O’Keeffe relocated and redefined herself in New Mexico, and her art was her best long-term antidote.

3. William James (1842-1910)

One of America’s greatest psychologists and philosophers, James suffered periods of depression during which he contemplated suicide for months on end. John McDermott, editor of The Writings of William James, reports that “James spent a good part of life rationalizing his decision not to commit suicide.” In The Thought and Character of William James, Ralph Barton Perry’s classic biography on his teacher, in the chapter “Depression and Recovery,” we learn that at age 27, James went through a period that Perry describes as an “ebbing of the will to live . . . a personal crisis that could only be relieved by philosophical insight.”

James’ Antidotes: James’s transformative insight about his personal depression also contributed to his philosophical writings about his philosophy of pragmatism, as James came quite pragmatically to “believe in belief.” He continued to maintain that one cannot choose to believe in whatever one wants (one cannot choose to believe that 2 + 2 = 5 for example) however, he concluded that there is a range of human experience in which one can choose beliefs. He came to understand that, “Faith in a fact can help create the fact.” So, for example, a belief that one has a significant contribution to make to the world can keep one from committing suicide during a period of deep despair, and remaining alive makes it possible to in fact make a significant contribution. James ultimately let go of his dallying with suicide, remained a tough-minded thinker but also came to “believe in my individual reality and creative power” and developed faith that “Life shall be built in doing and suffering and creating.”

4. Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)

“For many years he suffered from periodic depression and fatigue or apathy, neurotic symptoms, including anxiety attacks,” according to The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud, authored by Ernest Jones, one of Freud’s disciple psychoanalytsts. An early Freud attempt to assuage his depression was cocaine use. When he was 28, Freud said, “In my last severe depression, I took coca again and a small dose lifted me to the heights in wonderful fashion. . . .I take very small dose of it regularly against depression and against indigestion, and with the most brilliant success.” Ultimately the cocaine treatment for depression was an embarrassing failure for Freud. After getting others addicted to it, Freud discovered cocaine’s dangers.

Freud’s Antidotes: While many credit Freud’s lengthy self-analysis as an effective treatment, it also appears that recognition from the world was a powerful antidote. At an early age, Freud very much wanted fame and recognition. In his late 20s, he was beaten out by Carl Koller in the discovery of cocaine as an anesthetic, and that depressed him some. Later, through his work on psychoanalysis, dreams and sexuality, Freud received worldwide recognition and acquired an intellectual community in which he was the leader. Recognition and community appears to be a powerful antidote for many famous emotional sufferers, including mathematician John Nash, made famous in the book and movie A Beautiful Mind.

5. William Tecumseh Sherman (1820-1891)

Early in the Civil War, Union commander William Tecumseh Sherman was responsible for Kentucky, and he became exceedingly pessimistic about the outlook, complaining frequently to his superiors about shortages, and this resulted in negative press reports about him. Sherman insisted that he be relieved, and a month later he was put on leave by a superior who considered him unfit for duty. Sherman went back home to recuperate, where his wife Ellen complained to his brother (U.S. Senator John Sherman) of her husband’s “melancholy insanity to which your family is subject.” Sherman himself later wrote that the concerns of command “broke me down,” and he admitted contemplating suicide.

Sherman’s Antidotes: With support from influential family members, Sherman regained a position of command under General Ulysses S. Grant. At the Battle of Shiloh in 1862, a massive Confederate attack took most of the Union commanders by surprise. Sherman, concerned that if he took more precautions that “they’d call me crazy again,” was also caught unprepared but he rallied his troops and conducted a fighting retreat that helped avert a Union rout. On the second day of the battle, Sherman would prove instrumental to the successful Union counterattack. At Shiloh, Sherman was wounded twice, and had three horses shot out from under him, and he became a Union hero. Sherman wrote in his memoirs, “Before the battle of Shiloh, I had been cast down by a mere newspaper assertion of ‘crazy’ but that single battle had given me new life, and now I was in high feather.” Sherman’s depression was transformed first by the support and confidence of others, then by fortuitous external events, his own bravery, and recognition.

6. Franz Kafka (1883-1924)

“It is generally agreed that Kafka suffered from clinical depression and social anxiety throughout his entire life,” writes Kafka scholar Mauro Nervi about the Czech writer. Kafka was verbally abused by his father, yet he remained in the same house as his father for a good part of his life. A life-long hypochondriac, Kafka’s fears became a reality when at age 34 he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Not long after the diagnosis, according to Nervi, Kafka slipped into a mild depression and broke off his second engagement to Felice Bauer, who would marry another man two years later. Nervi writes, “She had loved Kafka, but could not endure his depressions and manic episodes any longer.”

Kafka’s Antidotes: Franz Kafka’s father believed that his son improved after he received his law degree and while he worked briefly for an insurance company. This work certainly did give Kafka material for his novels about the absurdity and misery of bureaucracy, and his writing was a significant antidote for his depression. Exercise was also an important antidote, and Nervi tells us that Kafka was “an accomplished swimmer, enjoyed hiking in the mountains, and was a talented horseman.” Throughout his adult life, Kafka communicated frequently as well as vacationing with his three younger sisters who provided Franz with great support. Near the end of his life, Kafka found a new companion, Dora Dymant, and Nervi believes that this loving relationship appears to have been very helpful for Kafka.

7. Siddhartha Gautama/Buddha (563 BCE – 483 BCE)

Before becoming the Buddha, he was Siddhartha Gautama. According to traditional biography, he was born into royalty, his father a king who attempted to shield Siddhartha from knowledge of human suffering by removing the sick, aged and other suffering from his view. However, Siddhartha was said to have seen an old man, a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and other suffering, and then to have become deeply depressed by these sights. And at age 29, he began his journey to seek wisdom as to how to overcome suffering and despair. His spiritual journey took six years, with Siddhartha ultimately rejecting popular “treatments” of his day that included asceticism, deprivation, and self-mortification.

Siddharta’s Antidotes: At age 35, after 49 days of meditating under the Bodhi tree, he attained Enlightenment and became known as Buddha, the “Awakened One,” and one of the world’s greatest antidotes to the suffering of depression was born. Buddhism begins with understanding truths about suffering. Specifically Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths are that (1) suffering is an inherent part of existence (2) suffering is caused by attachment and craving, and our ignorance about this (3) we can reduce suffering by letting go of attachment and craving and (4) this can be done by following the Noble Eightfold Path of the right understanding, thought, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration. For the remaining 45 years of his life, Buddha traveled and taught extensively. Compassion and the truth about suffering were his major antidotes to depression and despair—antidotes for himself and for others.

It is unwise to romanticize all depression sufferers and to celebrate all non-medical solutions.

While William Tecumseh Sherman’s troops are said to have loved him, he came to be despised by many Native Americans. And some of history’s supreme villains have also suffered from depression and have found horrific non-medical antidotes. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s minister of propaganda, wrote at 26 years of age, “I’m so despondent about everything. . . . Sometimes I’m afraid to get out of bed in the morning. There’s nothing to get up for.” Goebbels’ antidote was falling in love with Adolph Hitler who lifted him out of his depression. Goebbels stayed loyal to Hitler to the end. After Hitler realized he had been defeated, he committed suicide, and so too would Goebbels and his wife commit suicide after killing their six children.

Many other famous people, including Mark Twain, Emily Dickinsonand Charles Dickens, have found non-medical effective antidotes to their depression. These antidotes include humor, poetry and other artistic pursuits, finding purpose and meaning, work, exercise, emotional intimacy, loving relationships, compassion, courage, friends and family support, community, rest and travel, recognition, and transformative insights and wisdom.

#4: Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin, a professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University and author of several books, including Thinking In Pictures and The Way I See It, didn’t begin speaking until she was almost four years old. Like Daryl Hannah, when Grandin was diagnosed with autism as a child, institutionalization was the recommended treatment. Her parents disagreed. In addition to her writing, Grandin is a prominent speaker on both autism and animal behavior.

7 Famous Writers With Mental Disorders

As he reached middle age, his depression seemed to worsen. He became overly concerned with his success, and started giving his personal possessions away. Later, he was critical of himself for not having the courage to commit suicide.

Ernest Hemmingway.

Hemmingway is known as a brilliant Nobel Prize winning author, (The Old Man and the Sea). He&rsquos said to have suffered from depression, bipolar disorder, had borderline and narcissistic personality traits, and later suffered with psychosis. Instead of approaching doctors for help, Hemmingway infamously self-medicated with alcohol.

His manic side was evidenced by some of his high-risk behaviors,such as in deep-sea fishing, shooting animals in the wild, and dodging bullets as a war correspondent. His family tree was populated with relatives suffering from depression, many of whom committed suicide. He killed himself with a shotgun in 1961.

Philip K. Dick.

Dick is perhaps the most visionary sc-fi writer of the last century. His works are the most adapted sci-fi classicsin recent film history. Movies like Blade Runner, The Minority Report and Total Recall are just three of dozens of ingenious stories adapted from novels and short stories he wrote.

As a teenager, Dick was plagued by vertigo. As he grew, there were signs of schizophrenia, including eventually, visual and auditory hallucinations. He was hospitalized, but somehow managed to keep writing. At one point he felt there was a beam of pink light being transmitted directly into his consciousness.

Fra nz Kafka.

Kafka wrote in a completely original style exploring existential ideas about life. The Trial and Metamorphosis are two of his better known stories. Kafka was a loner, a genius, who suffered from social anxiety and depression. He worked in obscurity at an insurance company in Prague, where he noticed that life was bound by pointless bureaucracy.

Its thought his depression came from having only a handful of his works published during his lifetime. He also suffered from migraines, boils and insomnia brought on by the stress of working so hard at writing with so little to show for it.

Virginia Woolf.

Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse are two of Wolfs best known works. She was prone to nervous breakdowns in her twenties. They were thought to be brought on by the trauma of sexual abuse from her childhood.

After she finished her last novel, Wolf became seriously depressed. The loss of her home in London during World War II, contributed to her depression. In 1941, she filled her pockets with stones and walked into a river near her home and drowned.

Sylvia Plath.

Death was a recurrent theme in Plaths poems. Sometimes death meant death and rebirth&rdquo to her, sometimes she wrote about &ldquodeath as an end.&rdquo Her poems have titles like Stillborn, and Two Views of a Cadaver Room.

Plath was known among her colleagues for significant mood swings, along with impulse control issues. While still in college, she attempted suicide several times. In 1963 she committed suicide by placing her head inside an oven.

T.S. Eliot wrote that Pound was the poet mostresponsible for the twentieth century revolution in poetry. Pound was a brilliant poet and an outspoken critic of US policy during World War II. He was placed in a hospital for the criminally insane, after being arrested in 1945 for treason.

During his 13 year stay there, he was thought to be living with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. At another point in his life, he was also diagnosed withschizophrenia.

Writers work six months to a year to finish a novel, a book of poetry,or screenplay. Sometimes longer. They may not see feedback for years. During this time, a lot of anxiety grows about whether they are even writing something worthwhile, let alone of social or artistic merit.

Ina recent study, professional writers were found to be 121% more likely to suffer from bipolar disorder than the general population. Moreover, the same study found that authors had a &ldquostatistically significant increase&rdquo in anxiety disorders38% to be exact. Rates of alcoholism, drug addiction, and suicide are alsoinordinately highamong writers.

If you have questions aboutanxiety or other issuesyou&rsquore experiencing as a writer or creative professional, for a free phone consultto discuss, just click here.

Image credit: Creative Commons, Leo Tolstoy in His Study, 2006 by Tschaff, li censed under CC By 2.0

Image credit: Creative Commons, Franz Kafka, 2006 by Michael Allen Smith , li censed under CC By 2.0

Contagion: Historical Views of Diseases and Epidemics

Offering valuable insights to students of the history of medicine and to researchers seeking an historical context for current epidemiology, this collection contributes to the understanding of the global, social–history, and public–policy implications of disease.

The collection provides general background information on diseases and epidemics worldwide, and is organized around significant “episodes” of contagious disease.

These materials include digitized copies of books, serials, pamphlets, incunabula, and manuscripts — a total of more than 500,000 pages — many of which contain visual materials, such as:

The collection also includes two unique sets of visual materials from the Center for the History of Medicine at Harvard’s Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine.

Library materials and archival materials are supplemented by explanatory pages that introduce concepts related to diseases and epidemics, historical approaches to medicine, and notable men and women.

Historical perspectives on the theories, diagnosis, and treatment of mental illness

A walk through the drastic transformation of attitudes toward mental illness throughout history.

Attitudes and views toward psychopathology in the medical and larger social community have undergone drastic transformation throughout history, at times progressing through a rather tortuous course, to eventually receive validation and scientific attention. Departing from a simplistic view centred on supernatural causes, modern theories in the early 20th century began to recognize mental disorders as unique disease entities, and two main theories of psychodynamics and behaviorism emerged as potential explanations for their causes. With the increasing acceptance of mental illness as a unique form of pathology, official diagnostic classification systems were adopted, new avenues of research spawned, and modern approaches to treatment incorporating pharmaacotherapy and psychotherapy were established. Although much scientific progress has been made in the fields of diagnosing and treating mental illness, at a societal level the recent psychiatric deinstitutionalization movement has been met with mixed success, calling into question how to most effectively implement into clinical practice the knowledge that has been gained over the previous centuries.

The prevailing views of early recorded history posited that mental illness was the product of supernatural forces and demonic possession, and this often led to primitive treatment practices such as trepanning in an effort to release the offending spirit.[1] Relatively little in the way of improvements were achieved throughout the European Middle Ages, and the oppressive sociopolitical climate saw many sufferers of mental illness being submitted to physical restraint and solitary confinement in the asylums of the time.[2] It was not until the late 19th and early 20th centuries that modern theories of psychopathology began to emerge.

Around this time, two main theoretical approaches began to inform our understanding of mental illness: the psychodynamic theory proposed by Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), and the theory of behaviorism advanced by American psychologist John B. Watson (1878–1958).[2] Freud’s theory of psychodynamics centred on the notion that mental illness was the product of the interplay of unresolved unconscious motives, and should be treated through various methods of open dialogue with the patient.[2] Behaviorism, on the other hand, suggested that psychopathology was more closely related to the effects of behavioral conditioning, and that treatment should focus on methods of adaptive reconditioning, using the same principles of classical conditioning elucidated by the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov (1849–1936).[2]

Against the backdrop of these broad theoretical frameworks, modern approaches to the diagnosis and treatment of psychopathology began to emerge and, along with these, the need to systematically categorize mental illness became apparent. In post–Second World War North America a need for a formal classification system was recognized in order to provide more efficient and targeted mental health services for veterans.[3] This led to the creation of the first edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1952, which was largely drawn from the World Health Organization’s sixth edition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-6).[3] Early editions of the DSM described mental disorders in terms of “reactions,” postulating that such illnesses should be classified with reference to antecedent socio-environmental and biological causative factors.[3] However, in 1980 with the publication of the third edition, the DSM shifted its focus and intentionally remained neutral on the potential etiological causes of the various forms of mental illness. This position was maintained in subsequent editions, including the current DSM-5, published in 2013.[3]

With theoretical frameworks and a classification system in place, the study and treatment of mental illness began to expand significantly in the mid-20th century. Important developments in this period laid the foundation for modern pharmacologic and psychotherapeutic approaches aimed at addressing mental illness. From a pharmacological perspective, the catecholamine hypothesis, published in the 1950s, was an influential milestone although perhaps overly simplistic. Following research into the actions of drugs like reserpine and monoamine oxidase inhibitors, the catecholamine hypothesis proposed that depression and other affective disorders were likely caused by decreased levels of catecholamines such as norepinephrine.[4]

The field of psychotherapy, with its early roots in Freud’s psychodynamic theory, also saw new developments in this period. In particular, individuals such as American psychologist Albert Ellis (1913–2007) and American psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck (b. 1921) began adopting treatment approaches aimed at addressing the maladaptive cognitions and emotions underlying mental disorders.[5,6] When combined with principles of behaviorism, this approach led to the eventual development of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), the current gold standard psychotherapeutic approach in the treatment of anxiety disorders.[7] Taken together, the catecholamine hypothesis and the development of CBT have had a substantial impact on the modern treatment of depression and anxiety, the two disorders accounting for the highest proportion of disability-adjusted life years among mental illnesses across the globe.[8]

In the latter half of the 20th century, various factors gave rise to the more recent psychiatric deinstitutionalization movement in North America, including the advent of antipsychotic drugs and the recognition that mental health expenses could be reduced by using community-based outpatient settings in favor of inpatient care in psychiatric hospitals.[9] In response to the recommendations of the Canadian Mental Health Association in the 1960s,[10] deinstitutionalization was adopted in Canada and is ongoing today.[2] Unfortunately, throughout Canada, the increase in community-based mental health services has not kept pace with the closure of psychiatric hospitals,[11] contributing to problems of homelessness and crime among many sufferers of mental illness.[2] The closure of Riverview Hospital, a mental health facility in Coquitlam, serves as a poignant local example. Amid debates about how to best deal with addiction and mental health problems in BC, Riverview Hospital is currently slated to reopen by 2019,[12] and it will be interesting to see how other regions across the country respond to the ongoing challenges of mental health care.

Western civilization’s relationship with mental illness has had a complex and varied history, characterized by periods of relative scientific inertia and ostracism of those afflicted, as well as periods of great theoretical insight and progressive thinking. Following the abandonment of supernatural explanations/theories and with the emergence of logical thought and experimental reasoning after the Middle Ages, the stage was set for a transition to a humane method of treating mental illness. This shift led to the advent of modern theories of mental illness, dedicated classification systems, as well as theoretical approaches to treatment based on clinical evidence. Despite such progress, there remain ongoing public health concerns with respect to effectively implementing the most appropriate model of mental health care for society, and these will likely serve as major themes in the next chapter of the history of mental illness.

This article has been peer reviewed.


1. Restak R. Mysteries of the mind. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society 2000.
2. Butcher JN, Mineka S, Hooley JM, et al. Abnormal psychology, first Canadian edition. Toronto, ON: Pearson Education Canada 2010.
3. American Psychiatric Association. DSM history. Accessed 17 January 2017.
4. Schildkraut JJ. The catecholamine hypothesis of affective disorders: A review of supporting evidence. Am J Psychiatry 1965122:509-522.
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Mr Jutras is a third-year medical student at the University of British Columbia.

Famous People and Depression

Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain was one of the "Big Three" (Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin) to lead the world in its defeat of Hitler in WWII. He told in his own writings of suffering from "black dog," Churchill's term for severe and serious depression.

Patty Duke The Academy Award-winning actress told of her bipolar disorder in her autobiography and made-for-TV movie Call Me Anna and A Brilliant Madness: Living with Manic-Depressive Illness, co-authored by Gloria Hochman.

Linda Hamilton has gone public regarding her bipolar disorder, diagnosed at a young age. Hamilton, well known for her part with Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator movies, explains how helpful medication has been and that she understands she will have to be on medication for the rest of her life.

Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States, suffered from severe and debilitating bouts of depression, which were described by Carl Sandburg in his biographical analysis of his life. Lincoln once wrote in a letter to a friend, "A tendency to melancholy…let it be observed, is a misfortune not a fault."

Isaac Newton, the most famous mathematician of the 17th Century, suffered from several “nervous breakdowns” and was known for great fits of rage towards anyone who disagreed with him. Some people suspect that he had bipolar disorder, which was unknown at the time.

Jimmy Piersall The baseball player for the Boston Red Sox who suffered from bipolar disorder detailed his experience in The Truth Hurts.

Brooke Shields talked about her disabling postpartum depression in her book Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression. She was able to gain a significant improvement in her mood through medication and the help of a skilled nurse who recognized her problem and encouraged her to get help.

Vincent Van Gogh, famous painter and artist was labeled peculiar with unstable moods most of his short life. Many people have tried to give a definitive diagnosis of his illness through reading his personal letters. It seems clear that his depressive states were also accompanied by manic episodes of enormous energy and great passion. Van Gogh committed suicide at age 37.

Ludwig Von Beethoven, composer, had bipolar disorder and wrote his most famous works during times of torment, loneliness and suffering psychotic delusions. He medicated himself with the only drugs available in that day to bring some relief – opium and alcohol – and died of liver disease.

The following famous people have been guest speakers at Butler Hospital’s annual Real Stories, Real Recoveries program.

Jane Pauley, A familiar presence on NBC for over twenty-seven years, Jane Pauley is one of the most recognizable newswomen in America today. Until the release of her book, “Skywriting,” people did not realize that she had accomplished so much while suffering from bipolar disorder, a common and serious mental illness.

Terry Bradshaw, the winner of four super bowls and a successful sportscaster, writer, singer, and actor, was diagnosed with depression seven years ago and has used a combination of positive thinking, therapy and medications to overcome the illness.

7 Famous People With Myasthenia Gravis

At times it may seem like you’re the only unfortunate person to be fighting a rare autoimmune disease. And it’s true that Myasthenia gravis only affects between 14 and 40 in 100,000 people. You don’t have a very high chance at stumbling upon someone living with the disease, just randomly on the street. And unlike some other conditions, MG is not widely represented in the media either.

However, MG can affect anyone. We at FindMeCure want you to have some sense of representation, so today we talk about 7 people in the spotlight who share your diagnosis. Some of them struggled with the disease for years in a time when treatment wasn’t as effective, others eventually achieved a long-lasting remission. Some used their diagnosis to spread awareness and others had to retire from their careers due to health complications. What they all have in common is their perseverance in the face of adversity and we hope you feel inspired to keep on fighting after reading their stories.


Famous for the role of Maggie Horton on NBC’s Days of Our Lives, Suzanne Rogers, born Suzanne Crumpler, was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis at age 39. MG reportedly affected her facial muscles – a devastating symptom for an actress. Suzanne was put on medication that made her feel increasingly ill. Not only that but her facial expression changed as a result and she also suffered hair loss.

After 11 years on the show, Suzanne took a year off to take care of herself and recover. When she returned to her role, she didn’t look the same – MG had altered her appearance. With no way around it and the intention to represent this rare condition, Suzanne had the writers write her disease into the show. For her, playing Maggie Horton as someone who also had MG was a matter of raising awareness. Since 1995 Suzanne has been in remission and now, at age 75 she’s the longest-running actress on the show.

We feel inspired by Suzanne Rogers’ journey because she made lemonade out of the lemons she’d been given. Not only did she turn her MG into a focal point in her character’s storyline but she also used her position of fame to spread awareness about the rare disease and make patients feel represented.


Jackie Kennedy’s second husband and Maria Callas’ one true love whose death she never recovered from, Aristotle was a Greek shipping magnate, one of the richest and most influential men of his time. Nothing much is known about his battle with myasthenia gravis, including the timing of his diagnosis.

There are reports of him suffering from both influenza and MG at the same time – a very high-risk combination. However, as a cause of death for the billionaire who died at age 69 is often cited respiratory failure – a side effect of his MG. Onassis died in the American hospital in Paris and Maria Callas never stopped grieving him.


Snatching every award for acting imaginable, Sir Laurence Olivier both acted in and directed some of the most emblematic movies of the 20th century. Reportedly, Olivier suffered from the disease for the last 22 years of his life, dying of renal failure at age 82.

The last 15 years of his life he spent taking care of his health and his affairs, only taking cameo roles because of his condition. It’s important to note that MG was one of many conditions that were responsible for his deteriorating health, prostate cancer reported to be among them.


Christopher Robin Milne

Son of beloved author A.A. Milne, Christopher Robin was the inspiration behind the character of Christopher Robin in his father’s books about Winnie the Pooh. Christopher studied English literature after he failed the medical examination and couldn’t be an active participant in World War II. It’s unclear whether he had early MG symptoms but it is known that he suffered from the disease for years. Eventually, Milne died a natural death in his sleep at the age of 75.


American athlete and 2005 Olympic champion James Carter wasn’t always the 15th fastest man in the world. Although he started competing at a very young age, MG didn’t stop to ask if the time was convenient. Diagnosed with myasthenia gravis at the age of 12, he became unable to participate in sport. James couldn’t run due to his disease, but he also couldn’t walk or perform other everyday tasks.

After doctors found a tumor on his thymus and he had to undergo a thymectomy, his symptoms significantly improved. The procedure, however, is now thought to also be beneficial for MG patients who don’t develop tumors – recent studies show it can improve prognosis and slow down the course of the disease. James Carter is now in remission.


Known as Static Major, Stephen was an award-winning hip hop artist who worked with big names like Aaliyah, Destiny’s Child and Lil Wayne. At age 33 Stephen was diagnosed with MG after being rushed to the hospital by his wife Avonti who woke up in the middle of the night, alerted by his labored breathing. Stephen had begun showing signs of the disease earlier when his speech got slurred – a prominent symptom of MG.

After multiple tests, doctors finally came to a diagnosis. The same night they would perform a procedure called plasmapheresis – similar to dialysis – to clear the toxins from his blood. Surgery was scheduled for the next day. However, Stephen, who already had fear of hospitals, wasn’t convinced this was the best course of action.

Sadly, Stephen Garrett died that night due to procedure-related complications. A year later his family filed a lawsuit against the hospital.


Wilma Pearl Mankiller

The first woman elected as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, Wilma was a social activist and a social worker, invested in improving children’s living situation. In her time as an activist, she was dedicated to helping rural citizens and improving the standing of Native Americans.

Wilma Mankiller was honored with many awards among which the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In her 64 years on this Earth, Wilma achieves impressive results both in her political career and in her activism, all the while fighting multiple health issues, myasthenia gravis only being one of them. Mankiller died in 2010 from one of the many serious diseases she was battling at the time – pancreatic cancer.

8. Drew Barrymore – Addiction, Depression

It’s no secret that some of America’s most beloved child stars often have highly publicized struggles with mental health later in life. Perhaps one of the most famous examples is Drew Barrymore, who has since cleaned up not only her image, but also her struggles by getting proper mental illness treatment. When she was just a child, Barrymore began drinking and using drugs regularly. Eventually experiencing the disease of addiction, Barrymore found herself suffering with depression and even attempted to kill herself. Now, Barrymore lives a cleaner lifestyle and is open about her previous struggles in an attempt to help others.

  • Abe Burrows, author
  • Ross MacDonald, author
  • Iris Murdoch, author
  • Pauline Phillips, Dear Abby advice columnist
  • Alfred Van Vogt, science fiction writer
  • E.B. White, author

As you can see, dementia strikes across the spectrum of society. While some decrease in the speed of your memory often occurs as you age, difficulty with normal functioning, such as your activities of daily living, is not normal.

If you're concerned about yourself or a loved one, review these 10 warning signs of dementia. You can also take an at-home dementia screening test called the SAGE which can give help you discern if there are just expected changes in aging or a concern that should be evaluated by a physician.

Watch the video: Γιάννης Διονυσίου - Μπάρμπα Γιαννακάκης, Στην Υγειά μας ρε Παιδιά 28112020 (August 2022).