World Leaders With Mental Illness Who Shaped History

October 31, 2021

“There are some things concerning which we must always be maladjusted if we are to be people of good will.” 

Martin Luther King Jr.

But in the end, they found a way not just to cope with their illness, but rather, to put it to good use and do some really amazing things.

Mental illness doesn’t always have to limit what a person is capable of. In fact, if they can figure out how to harvest the good parts of what makes them uniquely them, they can use their abilities to do some really life-changing things.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was said to suffer from “melancholy.” At the time, melancholy was a description of someone we would now characterize as being clinically depressed.

There are rumors that a poem, published anonymously in the Sangamo Journal, was authored by Lincoln. The poem’s title was The Suicide’s Soliloquy. And if it was authored by Abraham, it would have been written when he was about 29 years old. 

Lincoln had a lot of childhood drama early on. Since there was no way to check for genetic anomalies, most theories of him having one disorder or another, are just that, theory. There is no doubt that he did have outstanding features that probably made him a target of teasing and ostracizing. And it might have contributed to his depression.

His melancholy nature was probably instrumental in being able to keep calm under very stressful conditions. He was known as a highly empathetic and very rational man. The true sign of a great leader is not only finding the strength when things look bleakest, but also inspiring others around you.

Lincoln’s sense of empathy and practicalness served him well while in office. And they were also the foundation of how America came to be the free and loving country that it is.

 Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill is one of the most influential leaders of his day. He went from calvary officer to War Leader to Senior Statesman. And is also known as a fantastic author, writing over 40 books and being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953. As a young child, Churchill stood out. Although there was no formal label at the time, historians believe that he had symptoms of ADHD.

Although ADHD often has the stigma that it makes a person less productive and less focused; usually, people who have it also have a heightened sense of imagination, adventure, intuition, and creativity. So for him, the characteristics that are typically associated with impairment served much throughout his childhood and adulthood. Perhaps it was his ADHD characteristics that made his accomplishments that much more significant.

It is also presumed that he suffered from bipolar disorder, which is often associated with ADHD. He had several of the symptoms of bipolar depression, such as suicidal thoughts, mania, and sleeplessness. The times when he succumbed to depression, he would talk about his “black dog.”

He would go through episodes where he would have a loss of appetite, trouble with concentration, little energy, and low interest in the things he once loved. On the other spectrum, his mania would lead him to bouts of energy where he would work around the clock. 

It was his Mental Illness That Spurred his Humanity

Churchill was aware that he had a mental illness. And many people speculate that it was due to his depression that he developed a keen sense of both empathy and realism that helped him as a great war leader.

Churchill gave many speeches about being humane and saving the lives of the innocent during the war. And in the process, he probably saved millions of people in war-torn counties. And during his time of mania, he had the energy to persevere when he acted as Prime Minister.

 Winston Churchill is an excellent example of how people can be presented with challenges like mental illness and not only rise above it but use it to their advantage.

Churchill would talk about his “black dog” being on a leash. He learned to control it and take advantage of the gifts that it gave to him, instead of focusing on the negative aspects of bipolar disorder and ADHD.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

An African-American man stands beside a quote at the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial in Washington DC.

There are very few people in history who have inspired change the way that Martin Luther King Jr. did. King suffered from depression, and by the time he was 13, he had twice tried to take his own life. During his rise to infamy, King would go through several severe depressive episodes. And it was apparent to those in his life that he could have benefited from psychiatry. 

In King’s case, it was the extreme empathy that not only lead to his bouts of depression but also what drove him to undo the injustices he saw around him. Many people who suffer from depression develop a very heightened sense of empathy for others. It is as if they absorb the pain that they see around them.

King was aware of his clinical depression but didn’t see it as a weakness, rather the thing that spurred him to lead an entire race to seek a better life for themselves and their families. He addressed a conference of psychologists saying, “There are some things concerning which we must always be maladjusted if we are to be people of goodwill.” 

Martin Luther King Jr. took his internal pain and turned it into inspiration for those around him. He was guided by a belief that we are here to help one another. And that those things that might appear to be a curse can sometimes be a blessing if you choose to make the best of them. He certainly did make the best of it and forever changed a nation.

Princess Diana

Princess Diana was not born into royalty; she married into it. And not only was it a heavy burden for her, it at times; it became overwhelming. She found it increasingly difficult to deal with the external pressures placed upon her due to her position. She was happiest when she was immersed in helping people around the world overcome their circumstances. 

Diana became the target for some very vicious attacks throughout her reign. It was written that she was mentally ill and that she was unstable. The more pressure she was under, the more you could physically see her diminishing.

Princess Diana had an eating disorder called bulimia. Bulimia is a mental disorder where a person consciously binge eats food and then will purge it. At times, when Diana’s life felt out of control, and she had no ways to cope with it, her weight was one thing that she thought she could control. 

Before her death, Princess Diana was very vocal about her very private battle with bulimia, and she spoke about it openly. Just like everything else she took on, she poured her passion into helping others.

By making her mental illness known, she changed the face of eating disorders and encouraged those who suffer in silence to speak out and to get the help they need without shame. She was a true leader in every sense of the word.

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