Mental disorders are incredibly diverse, and many individuals may suffer from one or more. However, the presence of mental disorders in famous people tends to garner more attention. The fact that these individuals, despite having one or more mental disorders or issues, have produced great works and accomplishments adds to the allure of this phenomenon. This article will examine 15 prominent historical and contemporary figures who have grappled with their brilliant or eccentric minds.
Why are mental disorders more prevalent in geniuses?
Aristotle has a famous quote: “No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness.” This statement holds some truth by looking at the personal lives of famous individuals such as writers, poets, artists, and influential historical figures. But does science also confirm this?
In 2009, Hungarian researchers published the results of a study on a gene called “Neuregulin-1.” This relatively understudied gene is associated with psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. However, it is also observed in individuals with higher inherent creativity.
This gene promotes brain growth and neural structure, enhancing an individual’s creativity. Therefore, what Aristotle said thousands of years ago based on his intuitive understanding also has a scientific basis.
Likely, we have also noticed that artists and geniuses are more prone to mental and psychological problems and, for example, have committed suicide.
Swedish researchers discovered in a study conducted in 2014 that individuals working in creative fields such as photography, writing, dancing, and other artistic professions are more susceptible to conditions and illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and autism than others. In the following, we will introduce some prominent personalities and see what mental disorders they have suffered from.
Many biographers and even some medical records suggest that the famous author of “The Old Man and the Sea” suffered from chronic depression for years. Alongside that, signs of bipolar disorder, borderline personality, and some narcissistic traits can also be seen in him. Hemingway consumed excessive amounts of alcohol and also suffered brain injuries during the war years. He experienced long periods of depression until he died at 61 in 1961.
Although it is difficult to accurately diagnose the mental problems of a man who died in the early 18th century, many biographers believe this physics genius suffered from bipolar disorder. Those who hold this viewpoint to instances of his angry outbursts, such as when Newton threatened to burn down his parents’ house.
3- Virginia Woolf
The mental problems of the famous English writer, Virginia Woolf, have been meticulously documented in her diaries and even in the Journal of Psychology. Woolf suffered from severe depression accompanied by bipolar disorder, experiencing mood swings ranging from deep depression to extreme mania and psychosis. All of this led her to spend some time in a mental asylum.
4- Leo Tolstoy
Researchers in psychology have proposed in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis that the famous Russian writer suffered from clinical depression. After writing the novel “War and Peace,” he became severely depressed and experienced melancholia to such an extent that he almost withdrew from life. After writing “Anna Karenina,” he reached a point where he wanted to renounce his sexual desires, writing, and possessions.
5- Abraham Lincoln
The 16th President of the United States, who abolished slavery, also struggled with clinical depression. This problem plagued him since he was a young lawyer in Chicago, Illinois. His colleague at the law office, William Herndon, once said that Lincoln also suffered from melancholia.
According to research by the OCD Foundation and National Geographic, this Serbian inventor suffered greatly from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Behavioral signs exhibited by this genius prove how deeply he was affected by OCD. For example, he used 18 different handkerchiefs to wipe his dishes clean. His strange obsession with the number 3 and aversion to round objects and jewelry are other signs observed throughout his life.
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7- Vincent Van Gogh
In an American psychology journal, there is a report about the possible illnesses of this famous Dutch painter. The report mentions his unique personality and unstable temperament, especially in the last two years of his life. Van Gogh committed suicide at the age of 37. Approximately 150 psychologists have speculated about his possible mental illnesses. These speculations include depression, bipolar disorder, epilepsy, and schizophrenia. However, there is no certainty in any of these diagnoses.
8- Adolf Hitler
Perhaps more than any other historical figure, Hitler has been studied regarding disorders and mental illnesses. Despite the extensive research, there is no definitive diagnosis of which disorder he may have had. Dozens of psychologists and biographers who personally knew Hitler or later studied him have attributed a range of mental disorders to him, from schizophrenia to narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder.
9- Vladimir Putin
Not only are historical figures and those who have passed away scrutinized, but prominent contemporary individuals can also arouse curiosity among the media or researchers. In 2015, many media outlets obtained a groundbreaking report from the US Department of Defense that contained a psychological assessment of Putin.
The report mentioned the possibility of Putin being affected by autism and Asperger’s syndrome. A group of behavioral doctors analyzed Putin’s movements and social patterns and concluded that his cognitive development had been disrupted due to childhood trauma, resulting in some neurological abnormalities.
10- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Mozart composed some of the world’s most complex and melodious classical music pieces. However, it may shock many that his writings, letters, and some informal compositions are filled with direct or indirect references to obscenities and repulsive things. Based on this issue and Mozart’s nervous ticks, some medical journals have concluded that he may have suffered from Tourette syndrome.
11- Joseph Stalin
Although Stalin, like other dictators in the world, has been accused of having a narcissistic personality disorder, many researchers do not believe in this diagnosis. On the contrary, historians and medical researchers believe he had a paranoid personality disorder. They attribute the roots of his affliction to his father’s abusive behavior during his childhood. This diagnosis aligns with Stalin’s behavior during his long reign and eliminating anyone suspected of opposing him.
12- Charles Darwin
Many science enthusiasts know the story of Darwin’s journey to the Galapagos Islands and other places that laid the foundation for the theory of evolution. However, many may only know that after returning from his exploratory trip, Darwin only left his home at the end of his life. According to the American Medical Association, this was due to his struggle with agoraphobia and anxiety disorders. The authors of this publication believe that with these disorders, he may have had the opportunity to focus all his attention on collecting evidence and developing his theory.
13- Winston Churchill
The famous British Prime Minister during World War II is another prominent political leader who suffered from mental disorders. Churchill likened his periods of depression to a black dog, but Lord Moran, his psychiatrist, diagnosed him with bipolar disorder.
The famous Renaissance sculptor was also not immune to mental disorders; based on descriptions of his behavior, such as limited interests, social withdrawal, and difficulties in managing life affairs, he suffered from disorders including autism and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
15- Edward Munch
Perhaps by looking at the work “The Scream,” one can also infer the existence of a psychological problem in this Norwegian painter. Still, there is also clinical evidence of chronic anxiety and delusions. Aware that his mental state was disturbed, Munch wrote: “My condition has brought me to the stage of madness.” As a result, he was hospitalized in a mental asylum for 8 months, where he also received electroshock therapy.
What is your opinion on mad geniuses? Do you agree that traces of madness can be found in geniuses? What individuals can you add to this list?