Skip to comments.49% of US Presidents suffered mental illness in Duke study
Posted on 04/20/2006 10:05:20 PM PDT by Torie
23/02/2006 - Duke: Duke study posits presidents had mental illness
U-Wire via NewsEdge Corporation :
By Haley Hoffman, The Chronicle (Duke)
DURHAM, N.C. -- No one would ever expect the general who led the Union army to victory in the Civil War to have a debilitating fear of blood.
But Ulysses S. Grant was among the 49 percent of former U.S. presidents afflicted by mental illness, according to an article published recently by psychiatrists at the Duke University Medical Center.
Jonathan Davidson, professor of psychiatry and director of the Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Program, has a particular interest in history, especially U.S. presidents.
After culling data from presidential biographies, Davidson was joined by Kathryn Connor, associate professor of psychiatry, and Marvin Swartz, professor and head of the social and community division of psychiatry, to analyze the information. Together, they diagnosed the commander-in-chiefs from 1776 to 1974.
According to the study, published in January in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, of the 37 presidents researched, 18 were found to suffer a mental illness of some form. Depression was the most prevalent disorder among presidents, occurring at a rate of 24 percent.
The researchers wrote that the 49 percent rate mirrored national mental illness statistics, but the rate of depression was high for a male population.
"A fairly high number of people have mental disease at some level, so it would be surprising if presidents didn't," said John Aldrich, professor of political science. "Certain things, like depression, are associated with artistic accomplishment."
Other diagnoses included anxiety, alcohol abuse, bipolar disorder and social phobia. Howard Taft apparently suffered from sleep apnea.
At least 10 presidents were affected by episodes while in office, and the study found evidence that symptoms interfered with their performance in almost all cases.
To make their diagnoses, the researchers used the criteria of the DSM-IV, the Diagnostic Statistical Manual all psychiatrists use to treat patients. They examined the data to identify symptoms, determine if they were persistent and caused dysfunction and then establish their own levels of confidence that mental illness existed.
Such remote diagnosis through secondary research, however, can be problematic.
"Using biographical materials may be an imperfect way to gauge mental illness," Aldrich said.
Swartz explained that detailed analysis of primary sources, while ideal, was outside of the scope of the study but that the published article elaborated on its own relevance and weaknesses.
"You have to rely on what historians reported based on their research," he said. Still, Swartz estimated that their sources erred on the side of undercounting illness among presidents.
The troubles of certain presidents are already very well known. Abraham Lincoln famously suffered from symptoms of depression, though he triumphed politically more than Franklin Pierce, whose more modest legacy the study attributed greatly to his illness.
Having witnessed the violent death of his son in a railway accident just before he assumed office, Pierce suffered from symptoms indicating depression or post-traumatic stress during his term. The study noted that his associates accused Pierce of being a different person than the one who had energetically campaigned for office.
While personal tragedy and the weight of the presidency may have incited the problems of some presidents, others were apparently afflicted long before they moved into the White House.
According to the article, contemporaries of Grant, James Madison, Rutherford Hayes and Woodrow Wilson who watched them as young men would have thought that these men would do very little with their lives based on their seeming mental problems or deficiencies.
Whether they were suffering from an illness before they entered the White House or not, presidents' afflictions raise questions about their ability to do the executive job.
"The extensiveness of Richard Nixon's alcohol abuse was pretty remarkable and alarming, given the authority he had," Swartz said.
Though Calvin Coolidge's hypochondria may not have had the most profound effect on affairs of state, Coolidge, Grant and Thomas Jefferson were diagnosed with social phobia by Davidson and his associates.
"Social phobia is kind of remarkable in a president. It meant he was shy and avoided social circumstances, and yet he was president," Swartz said.
The study noted among its implications that no national calamities seem to have been a result of presidential mental illness.
It also considered the possibility that knowledge of these afflictions might lessen the stigma of psychological treatment. But there remains a question about the public's right, and need, to know the psychological state of the president, in an age of increased psychological vigilance.
"It's obviously about as stressful and physically demanding a job as there is for mature adults, so it has to at least exacerbate any [already existing] problems," Aldrich said. "You know, the president is not a person, he's an institution.... There are a lot of checks and redundancies to make sure he doesn't do anything foolish."
((Distributed on bahalf of U-Wire via M2 Communications Ltd - http://www.m2.com)) ((U-Wire - http://www.uwire.com))
IIRC, from what was said on the show, the family never talked about, at the time.
Of course I thought that was BS, even I had heard about her, just could remember her name.
I didn't listen very long, sure they came up w/more stuff.
Hey the President's bon again, that would be enough for the Rats.
How many psychiatrists at the Duke University Medical Center suffer from mental illness?
I dare say these shrinks could/would determine nearly anyone has a tendency to "mental illness". Aometimes the diagnosis is all "in the eye of the beholder".
How come they haven't used their lacrosse team as subjects? I think they might be good objects of a study.
My thought exactly. There's nothing like defaming the dead to grab headlines.
The researchers wrote that the 49 percent rate mirrored national mental illness statistics,
That's probably a good idea; you never can tell what might happen to you if you listen too long.
I have to wonder about the "Captain Queeg" factor, though. If a candidate really does have some sort of neurosis or disorder, it would be a good idea not to elect him. The long campaigns we have may do something to weed out candidates who have some mental problems -- though some disorders may actually work to a politician's advantage, at least until they get elected.
Some conditions, though, may not show up until a crisis happens. The idea that you can separate out those the determined from overly rigid, or the easy-going from the spinless before hand is a delusion, since those who write such long-distance analyses are usually influenced more by their own prejudices than by actual objective data.
That's ironic, right.
Carter was and is definitely mentally ill...but even more so are the people who idolize him.
That's a mental ilness?
Aren't these the same people who think *homophobia* is a mental disorder? That should about settle the question.
Shyness is a mental disorder? Duke psychiatrists: proving once again why psychiatry is a useless field of study.
My roommate has social phobia. It's more than just shyness - you almost have to put a gun to his head to get him to get him to leave the house. It's kind of like agoraphobia (sp?) but he's not afraid of open spaces, he's afraid of people.
That said, I don't disagree with you - the conclusion in the OP is bunk. I seriously doubt that anyone who had this condition could aspire to be the town dogcatcher - let alone the President.
"The researchers wrote that the 49 percent rate mirrored national mental illness statistics,"
Didn't Bush get 51% of the vote against Kerry's 49%?
That right there proves who would have been the next mental President.
Only 4 % of Crazy People approve of George W Bush. Its the lowest approval number so far in his 6 years in office ...Lower even than yesterday when 5 % of Crazy People approved of George W Bush.
These presidents did NOT have that kind of social phobia, they simply were shy, and Jefferson wasn't even that, he was just an elitist.
You can not run, nor serve as President, if you can't meet and talk to people and the examples given (like Coolidge) do not fit the bill.
They have taken true terms, but expanded the definations so far out that everyone could reasonably fit in.
Carter thought his mother was a peanut