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))
But remember, John Adams hated Thomas Jefferson
With today's large fields of candidates, it's always possible to find one real kook, and elect someone who also has something wrong upstairs. And of course the observers are biased themselves, and prefer some candidates to others.
"Presidential temperament" was a big theme in 1976. It doesn't look like the professional observers caught Jimmy Carter's own deficiencies and rigidities. They were comparing Carter to recent presidents Nixon and Johnson. Carter didn't have their particular flaws -- and they didn't want Ford to win -- so they judged Jimmy not just to be sane, but to have an untroubled psyche, and missed his obsessive nature.
"so they judged Jimmy not just to be sane, but to have an untroubled psyche, and missed his obsessive nature."
Not us Navy guys. We have a saying from way back: "Nukes are pukes."
If they compared Wilson to TR, Woodrow might simply look boring and conventional.Absolutely, and that's precisely why he won. He stayed "safe" -- boring -- and a traditional low-tarrif, moderate progressive Democrat, fitting in comfortably between TR's radicalism and Taft's conservativism. The Wilson scholars hate to think he was a traditional Dem. He was. All that cr*p about Brandeis converting him is bull. Even if true, he met Brandeis way late in the campaign to change either his thought or his rhetoric. (Indeed, his first term domestic policies were either mainstream progressivism, just to the left of Taft, or traditional populist Democrat.)
So, his '12 political campaign was based on being, if not stodgy, then stiff, especially as a counter-point to TR, who was accused of being a drunk, a maniac, and all sorts of unkind and mostly -- mostly -- untrue manifestations of mental instability. Note, though, that Wilson was considered a very good speaker. Not a TR, but he could make a good speech.
I don't see how anyone in 1912 could have known Wilson's inner character, except, perhaps, close associates. He was the occasional stuborn ass as president of Princeton, but that was seen as having backbone. And he was very adept as Governor of NJ, although I think the political situation there made it easy for him. He took supposedly brave stands against "the interests" that were really easy to make. It was the events of his presidency that brought out his ugliest core. Nobody could have known it back in 1912.
"But remember, John Adams hated Thomas Jefferson"
Heck, Aaron Burr *killed* Alexander Hamilton.
Bush isn't smart enough to be crazy.
Very common in overweight men, and President Taft was HUGE!
LOL - that's kinda funny when you stop to think about it. I would imagine most presidents get tired of living like they're in a zoo or fishbowl being watched 24/7.
JFK was a sexual deviant. Somehow they failed to mention that in this article too.
I think you have to be nuts to want that job in the first place.
There couldn't have been that many liberal presidents throughout history could there have been?
He got stuck in the WH bathtub
President Taft was HUGE!Taft's top weight as President was 347 lbs in 1911/12. (He peaked at around 330 as Sec War five years before; he dropped under 300 when he ran for President.) The story of the bathtub is typical of how these things define history. That story is the most common in the popular mind of the guy's presidency. It came from a White House usher who printed memoirs in 1934. He wrote,
He got stuck in the WH bathtub
"When Taft came to the White House, a large tub had to be placed in his bathroom, since the one already there was not big enough. The President would stick in it when bathing and had to be helped out each time" ("Forty-Two Years in the White House" by Ike Hoover p. 111)It's remarkable how popular history has gone from those lines to "Taft got stuck in the bathtub" -- and, worse, how that it came to define the man. It's an historical shame.
I won't bore you with a large refutation of Hoover and his stories, except to say this:
1) Taft was large all his life, and he traveled extensively, probably more than anyone else in politics in his day. He was used to different bathtubs everywhere he went and he knew what to do in case of an under-sized tub. He didn't get "stuck" in one. He needed help getting out. And that tub Hoover described was in the White Hous when Taft was well under 300 lbs.
2) Hoover hated Taft and used his memoirs to paint him ugly. While it is likely true that Taft got help from his Filipino manservant in bathing, I have found at least two instances in which Hoover flat-out lied about, or, to be generous, most erroneously recalled the past. Put it this way: Hoover did not have to mention the bathtub story in his book. It's a silly story that ought not to define his presidency.
For a couple stories about Taft, his weight, and his humor about it, see here.
Interesting PDF, but it'll take a while to look through it.
Sometimes politics really is psychodrama. Maybe it happens when a charismatic or innovative leader comes along and breaks with tradition. Such a figure has trouble fitting in with those around him, and the other political actors have a hard time coming to terms with the age's dominant figure.
TR, Taft, and Wilson provide one example. JFK, LBJ, and Nixon another. You can see a little of this in the early Republic as well, as founders competed with each other for Washington's and then Jefferson's favor. The relationship between presidents and vice presidents has often been frought with Freudian tensions.
90% of Duke professors are morons.
Well, according to this book, that is not entirely true.