Presidential depression and Abraham Lincoln’s struggle with ‘melancholy’: What historians know


He may be best known for his honesty, but a lesser known fact about Abraham Lincoln is that the sixteenth president of the United States battled severe depression during his life.

Dr. Chris Tuell, a clinical psychotherapist and chemical and behavioral addiction specialist at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, has studied Lincoln’s mental health issues extensively.

“While history books play an important role in our perception and understanding of the Illinois ‘railroad divide,’ it is often easy for us to forget that Abraham Lincoln was very human,” Tuell told Fox News Digital.

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“Lincoln led this nation through its worst crisis, while at the same time fighting his own internal war of chronic depression“.

This is what you should know.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of the United States, is depicted in this painting at the Gettysburg Address. (Painting by JLG Ferris)

Signs of Lincoln’s Depression

At age 32, in a letter to John Stuart in 1841, Lincoln wrote: “I am now the most miserable man alive. If what I feel were distributed equally to the whole human family, there would not be a single happy face in the world.” earth. I will never be better, I don’t know; I have a terrible feeling that I won’t be; remaining as I am is impossible.”

Lincoln scholars have “clear evidence” that he suffered from depressive episodes beginning in his 20s, Tuell said.

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“Lincoln’s school teacher, Mentor Graham, stated, ‘Lincoln told me that he often felt like killing himself,'” Tuell said.

“Law partner and biographer William Herndon stated: ‘He was a sad, gloomy and melancholy looking man. His melancholy dripped from him as he walked.'”

Factors that contributed to Lincoln’s depression.

The president’s mental health status can be attributed to both genetics and traumatic experiences, according to the book “The Melancholy of Lincoln” by Joshua Wolf Shenk.

Lincoln is said to have had a family history of depression.

Abraham Lincoln seated Feb 9 1864 LC

Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of the United States, struggled with severe depression. (Library of prints and photographs of Congress)

“Historical records indicate that Lincoln’s mother and father were prone to melancholy and that one side of the family ‘was mentally ill,'” Tuell said.

“Bereavement in childhood may be one of the most important factors in the development of depressive illnesses in old age.”

As a child, Lincoln lost several close family members.

After his brother died in childhood, Lincoln’s family mother, aunt and uncle They all died when he was just 9 years old. A decade later, his sister died giving birth to a stillborn baby.

Lincoln later experienced the loss of his first love, Ann Rutledge, in 1835.

As a father, he experienced the deaths of two young sons, Eddie and Willie.

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“According to mental health professionals, childhood grief may be one of the most important factors in the development of depressive illnesses in later life,” Tuell said.

Dr. Marc Siegel, clinical professor of medicine at New York University Langone Medical Center and Fox News medical contributor, said Lincoln’s melancholy may have been linked to his “intellectual prowess and [his tendency to] see and feel things deeply.”

How Lincoln dealt with depression

Before the era of psychotherapy and antidepressant medicationsLincoln learned to live with his depressive disposition, Tuell said.

“He frequently used humor and storytelling to improve his mood and distract himself from his depression,” the psychologist told Fox News Digital.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln is depicted signing the Emancipation Proclamation, which gave freedom to enslaved people. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

“Only his closest friends had any idea about the extent of his condition.”

In a period of time in which mental health treatment was not available, Tuell noted that learning to manage his life with his depression was Lincoln’s only option.

“The only other option would have been to succumb to these adversities,” he said.

“He made it through it and the Civil War to become our best president, in most people’s estimation.”

“It does not appear that the 16th president was in the personality to acquiesce. Lincoln persevered and served this country eloquently.”

Siegel noted that in Lincoln’s time, depression was called “melancholia” and was typically treated with opium, a highly addictive medication. narcotic drug which is extracted from the poppy plant.

abe lincoln

“It doesn’t seem like the 16th president agreed,” said one psychologist. “Lincoln persevered and served this country eloquently.” (AP)

Historians have noted that Lincoln’s children brought him periods of happiness despite his continued depression.

“We are so used to seeing Abraham Lincoln depressed and sad that we forget (and the historical record is clear on this) that he laughed when he played with his children or watched the chaos they created.” Raymond Arroyohe previously told Fox News Digital.

He is the author of the book “The Magnificent Caper of Tad Lincoln,” which is part of his Turnabout Tales book series.

What to know about depression

Depressive disorders affect approximately 18.8 million American adults or about 9.5% of the American population over the age of 18 in a given year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

According to Tuell, there are different types of depressive disorders.

These may include major depression, dysthymia (a continuous low-grade depression), and bipolar (mood swings of depression and mania).

sad woman

Depressive disorders affect approximately 18.8 million American adults or about 9.5% of the American population over the age of 18 in a given year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. (iStock)

“Depression can affect all aspects of life: physical health, sleep [habits], eating habits, work and relationships with friends and family,” Tuell said. “It affects thoughts, feelings and behaviors.”

Although depression is one of the most serious mental health Problems people face today, Tuell noted, are also one of the most treatable.

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Lincoln’s perseverance in the face of severe depression was something to admire, Tuell and Siegel agreed.

“We can only speculate what Lincoln would say or do about our current state of political affairs, or even what thoughts he may have about the new millennium’s understanding of depression and mental health,” Tuell said.

Lincoln and generals at Antietam

President Abraham Lincoln with General George B. McClellan at his headquarters in Antietam, October 3, 1862. From left: General George W. Morell, Colonel Alexander S. Webb, General McClellan, Scout Adams , Dr. Jonathan Letterman, unidentified officer. President Lincoln, Colonel Henry Hunt, General Fitz, John Porter, unidentified officer. (Getty Images)

“But now, some 159 years later, Lincoln’s historical personality still belongs to all eras.”

Lincoln believed in the human spirit and spoke of the role people should play toward each other, Tuell said.

“This was expressed no more clearly than through Lincoln’s own words: ‘With malice toward none; with charity for all,'” he said.

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Lincoln’s battle with depression can be seen as an “inspiration to all who suffer from this dreaded illness or feel stigmatized by it,” Siegel added.

“He made it through it and the Civil War to become our best president, in most people’s estimation.”

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