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))
That means that 21.07%
The real debate is which president was 0.07% mentally ill.
Psycho-history is lame. But it's sure a heck of a lot better than socio-cultural history.
Well said, Professer!
Thom Jefferson spent all his time thinking ... reading, writing, inventing, planning, creating ... who can do that with a bunch of people around wanting to party?
100% of LIBERALS are nuts.
Elect Hillary and get an even 50%.
There. I fixed it. But, very well put!
Just more verbal diarrhea from the "I hate America" crowd. Ignore them or shout them down, it doesn't matter, because they are not adults, hate their own lives, hate freedom, and want to die. I wish they'd just do it and leave the rest of us in peace.
Effing Liberals. I have one for all of you:
Liberalism is a mental illness. Therefore, 100% of all Liberals are mentally ill.
I guess it is true what they say - you have to be crazy to want that job! I wonder how many of these presidents became depressed after becoming president. I just finished John Adams. The description of Jefferson is of a frigging nutcase.
We have a winner! Good one!
That said, Freud and William Bullitt wrote quite the fascinating psychoanalysis of Wilson: Thomas Woodrow Wilson which was distinctly unfavorable to Professor Wilson. Since I dislike Wilson intensely, I've always enjoyed it. Erik Ericson also did an interesting psychobiography of Luther: Young Man Luther that was very popular back in the '60s and '70s.
My guess is the percentage of professors of psychiatry who qualify as mentally ill is much higher.
That's probably where this is headed.
Another reason to cast a suspicious eye at this "study". From the accounts of those who knew and observed Nixon privately, he a social drinker not the drunk that his haters like to portray him as.
I think this is kind of like asking what percentage of the American population is criminal. The answer is that most all of us are, because our stuped lawmakers have written so many laws that nobody can move without breaking one. Same thing with mental illness, academics will attribute so many types of behavior to it, that no one can move without being accused of mental illness. For instance, I note that shyness is now categorized as "social phobia."
That being said, I have always thought that the desire to be president indicated a certain degree of mental illness in itself. And if you told me that half the population was mentally ill, I wouldn't be surprised. How else to explain all those people who vote for Democrats?
Didn't read this, but let me guess the party of those they said were mentally ill.