Some Great Leaders Had Depression, Which May Have Been a Good Thing

Some of America’s top leaders in history had mental health problems and it may have helped in times of crisis. Presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, along with generals Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman and Martin Luther King Jr., all struggled with mental health issues, often depression, says Tufts University psychiatry professor Dr. Nassir Ghaemi, who has written about historical figures’ psychological issues. He also points to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and India’s Mahatma Gandhi as  historical figures who thrived with emotional issues.

Saying someone has psychiatric issues, “in my view … is a compliment,” said Ghaemi, author of the book A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links between Leadership and Mental Illness. He used medical and historical records to analyze historical figures, according to this article in Big Story. Two sets of leaders illustrate that. Sherman was severely depressed and had anxiety, reportedly suicidal, while Gen. George McClellan was considered mentally healthy but not a successful general in crisis, Ghaemi said. Grant, who had a problem with alcohol, excelled during wartime but did not do well as a peacetime president, he said.

More recently, Churchill suffered repeated long bouts of depression which he was open about, calling it his “black dog.” His predecessor as prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, was the same political party — conservative — but more mentally healthy and yet didn’t see the threat of Adolf Hitler.

Adam Wahlberg

Founder of Think Piece Publishing