Many of the world's most famous, creative, and influential people have had a mental illness. The list includes writers, entertainers, political leaders, scientists, entrepreneurs, and many more. As you browse through this list, try to imagine what the world would have been like without these people, some of whom have had major influences on world history during very critical times.
Mental Illness is not confined to any particular ethnic, racial, religious, or financial group. Anyone can get it, at any time.
Even though most mental illnesses have devastating effects on the lives of those affected, many have found that these illnesses can produce extraordinary clarity, insight, and creativity as well.
Below you will find the names of many famous people who felt not only the devastation, but also the extraordinary creative potential, as well as the courage to use it. It's quite a list. Please take the time to browse it thoroughly.
- Abraham Lincoln
- The admired sixteenth President of the United States suffered from severe and incapacitating clinical depression which sometimes led to thoughts of suicide as well.
- Virginia Woolf
- The British novelist who wrote To the Lighthouse and Orlando experienced the severe mood swings of bipolar disorder which included feverish periods of writing and weeks spent in the gloom of depression. Anthony Storr wrote about her story in The Dynamics of Creation .
- Lionel Aldridge
- As a defensive end for the legendary Green Bay Packers of the 1960's, he played in two Super Bowls. During the 1970's, he suffered from schizophrenia and spent two and a half years homeless. Before he died in 1998, he gave many inspirational talks concerning his battle against paranoid schizophrenia.
- Eugene O'Neill
- The famous playwright, author of Long Day's Journey Into Night and Ah, Wilderness!, is documented as having suffered from clinical depression.
- Ludwig van Beethoven
- The brilliant composer is documented as having suffered from bipolar disorder, in The Key to Genius: Manic Depression and the Creative Life by D. Jablow Hershman and Julian Lieb.
- Gaetano Donizetti
- The famous opera singer suffered from bipolar disorder.
- Robert Schumann
- The "inspired poet of human suffering" lived with bipolar disorder, as one of many creative people discussed in The Dynamics of Creation by Anthony Storr.
- Leo Tolstoy
- Author of War and Peace, Tolstoy revealed the depth of his own mental illness in the memoir Confession. He suffered from clinical depression, hypochondriasis, alcoholism, and substance abuse. His experiences are discussed in both The Dynamics of Creation by Anthony Storr and The Inner World of Mental Illness: A Series of First Person Accounts of What It Was Like by Bert Kaplan.
- Vaslov Nijinsky
- His autobiography, The Diary of Vaslov Nijinksy, documents the dancer's battle with schizophrenia.
- John Keats
- This renowned poet's mental illness is documented along with the illnesses of many others in The Dynamics of Creation by Anthony Storr and The Broken Brain: The biological Revolution in Psychiatry by Nancy Andreasen, M.D.
- Tennessee Williams
- The playwright wrote about his personal struggle with clinical depression in his own Memoirs, and his experience is also documented in Five O'Clock Angel: Letters of Tennessee Williams to Maria St. Just, 1948-1982; The Kindness of Strangers: The Life of Tennessee Williams by Donald Spoto; and Tennessee: Cry of the Heart by Dotson.
- Vincent Van Gogh
- The bipolar disorder that this celebrated artist suffered from is discussed in The Key to Genius: Manic Depression and the Creative Life by D. Jablow Hershman and Julian Lieb and Dear Theo, The Autobiography of Van Gogh.
- Isaac Newton
- The English mathematician and scientist who formulated the theory of gravitation is suspected of suffering from bipolar disorder, as discussed in The Dynamics of Creation by Anthony Storr and The Key to Genius: Manic Depression and the Creative Life by D. Jablow Hershman and Julian Lieb.
- Ernest Hemingway
- The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist's bouts with suicidal depression are examined in the True Gen: An Intimate Portrait of Ernest Hemingway by Those Who Knew Him by Denis Brian.
- Sylvia Plath
- The suicide of this poet and novelist was caused by her lifelong struggle with clinical depression, as discussed in A Closer Look at Ariel: A Memory of Sylvia Plath by Nancy Hunter-Steiner.
- The Dynamics of Creation by Anthony Storr discusses the mental illness of one of the world's greatest artistic geniuses.
- Winston Churchill
- The quote "Had he been a stable and equable man, he could never have inspired the nation. In 1940, when all the odds were against Britain, a leader of sober judgment might well have concluded that we were finished," was written by Anthony Storr about Churchill's bipolar disorder in Churchill's Black Dog, Kafka's Mice, and Other Phenomena of the Human Mind.
- Vivien Leigh
- The British actress of the 1950's & 60's, star of Gone with the Wind and A Streetcar Named Desire suffered from the mental illness bipolar disorder, as documented in Vivien Leigh: A Biography by Ann Edwards.
- Jimmy Piersall
- The Truth Hurts, written by the baseball player for the Boston Red Sox, detailed his experience with bipolar disorder.
- Patty Duke
- The Academy Award-winning actress revealed her bipolar disorder in her autobiography and made-for-TV move Call Me Anna, and in A Brilliant Madness: Living with Manic-Depressive Illness, co-authored by Gloria Hochman.
- Charles Dickens
- The clinical depression of one of the greatest authors in the English language is documented in The Key to Genius: Manic Depression and the Creative Life by D. Jablow Hershman and Julian Lieb, and Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph by Edgar Johnson.
- John Forbes Nash
- Mathematician, author of the game theory of economics, winner of the 1994 Nobel Prize in Economics, he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. He was also the subject of the book and movie "A Beautiful Mind"