White House blues: It?s lonely at the top
An increasing number of people around the world believe the people who run America need to have their heads examined. And now a study virtually supports that theory.Updated: Feb 17, 2006 13:07 IST
An increasing number of people around the world believe the people who run America need to have their heads examined. And now a study virtually supports that theory. According to a recent analysis of biographical sources by psychiatrists at Duke University Medical Centre, almost 50 per cent of American presidents from 1789 to 1974 had at least one mental illness in their lives.
And more than half of those presidents, the study found, struggled with their symptoms - most often depression - while in office.
“What is hopeful about this is that it is evidence that people can suffer from depression or other mental problems and still function at a presidential level, if not at their best,” said Dr. Jonathan Davidson, who, along with Dr. Kathryn Connor and Dr. Marvin Swartz, cataloged symptoms from presidential papers and biographies, and identified those disabling enough to qualify as disorders. They reported their findings in the current issue of The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease.
As a young man, Abraham Lincoln experienced bouts of despair so profound that friends were concerned he might commit suicide. Ulysses S. Grant, the general under Lincoln who later rose to the presidency, often avoided social occasions and retreated into alcohol.
And in most cases, the disorders recall the men: the indefatigable Theodore Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson showed symptoms of the manic energy that characterises bipolar disorder; Richard Nixon drank heavily through the Watergate period; and Calvin Coolidge plunged into a pit of depression after his teenage son died of an infection.
The report also serves as a caution against judging troubled souls too early. “To contemporaries well acquainted with Madison, Hayes, Grant and Wilson,” the authors write, “it must have appeared that, as young men, these individuals were doing very little with their lives.”
(The New York Times)
First Published: Feb 17, 2006 13:07 IST