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4 Brilliant People Who Struggled with Mental Illness by Lauren Christiansen

Updated: Aug 15, 2020

Photo credit: Pexels

Because of the stigma surrounding mental and behavioral health issues, many of us hide our struggles, suffering secretly in silence. We have been taught to view anxiety, depression, and addiction as moral weaknesses and a result of poor decision-making. Luckily, modern scientific findings have demonstrated that our struggles are not always based in poor choices, but are usually a result of biochemical and genetic circumstances that are out of our control. We can choose to become better, but many of us did not consciously choose anxiety, depression, or addiction.

Knowing that mental health conditions are not always a choice allows us to strategize towards finding new treatments and solutions. New therapies are coming out every day, some of them very effective. Unfortunately, those who suffered from mental health issues in history didn’t have the same type of treatment and insight available that we do now. However, we can look back and recognize the brilliance and strength in each of these individuals through analyzing much of their writing and artwork. Here are 4 individuals in history who struggled with mental health issues:

Edgar Allen Poe

Poe had a difficult life. His father was an alcoholic who deserted his family when he was a small child. He died a short time later. His mother died of pneumonia and he was adopted by another family. He struggled with alcoholism and gambling, running up enormous debts. He also struggled with severe depression. He said, “Men have called me mad but the question is not yet settled whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence; whether much that is glorious, whether much is profound, does not spring from the disease of thought.” Though he died a poor man, he is now known as one of the most famous poets in the world.

Abraham Lincoln

At 51 years old, Lincoln was at a high point in his life. He was about to win the nomination for president. Crowds cheered around him, loving every moment of his presence. But inside, he was incredibly depressed. One of his friends claimed, “I then thought of him one of the most diffident and plagued men I ever saw.” All of his friends referred to him as having a “melancholy” demeanor throughout his entire life. Lincoln went on to defeat the Confederacy which led to the end of slavery. He is one of the most beloved presidents of all time.

Ernest Hemmingway

Ernest Hemmingway received a series of severe injuries during World War II that escalated his alcoholism and depression. He was in chronic pain and nothing seemed to take it away except for a drink, once declaring that “a man does not exist until he is drunk.” Though he wrote several successful books and poems, he could not escape his unhappiness. His behavior became more erratic in his later years, and he committed suicide in 1961.

Sylvia Plath

Known as an American poet, novelist and storyteller, (most famously known for The Bell Jar) Sylvia Plath struggled with severe mental health issues that started at a young age. During college, she struggled with unfathomable depression but exceeded academically. She described her mental state as “marked by constant agitation, and the inability to cope with daily life.”

She tried several different treatments but none of them seemed to help her mental state for very long. She died in 1963.

Mental Health & Creativity

Each one of these individuals encountered addiction, anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues. Yet each of them utilized their own inner struggles to produce amazing books, poetry, or in Lincoln’s case, leadership. Thanks to amazing advancements in mental health treatments and a lessening stigma surrounding anxiety, depression, and addiction, we are learning to address mental health issues in an entirely new way.

Do you struggle with anxiety, depression, or addiction? If so, please contact Straight Talk Counseling at 714-828-2000 or visit our website at One of our professional counselors would be happy to speak with you.

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