According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) an estimated 1 in 10 Americans suffer from depression. This statistic also includes our nation’s leaders, our presidents. On this President’s Day we are going to take a look at how mood disorders have affected some of the most famous men in American history. Before you take a peek at the rest of this post, do you think you can name all the presidents who have had depression at some point in their lives?
In 2006 an article was published by psychiatrists at the Duke University Medical Center which reviewed the biographies of American presidents from 1776 to 1974. This study, which was published in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease analyzed the historical data of 37 presidents looking for symptoms of mental illness as defined by the criteria of the DSM-IV, the Diagnostic Statistical Manual. What they found was startling. According to the Duke researchers, 49% of former presidents had experienced some form of mental illness. Depression was the most common type of presidential mental illness (24%) which some experts say is a high percentage compared with the national average.
Other mental health diagnoses included anxiety, social phobia, substance abuse, and bipolar disorder.
Here is a list of the presidents who have been diagnosed with depression through analysis of historical data:
• John Adams
According to the historical literature, John Adams was an unhappy president. Some think he may have suffered from both depression and bouts of mania. He was said to have experienced recurring attacks of depression in 1756 when he studied law. In his diaries he wrote about “great anxiety and distress.” He confessed later in life that he was not one to suffer in silence: “I sighed, sobbed, and groaned, and sometimes screeched and screamed. And I must confess to my shame and sorrow that I sometimes swore.”
• Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson, who followed John Adams, as our third president also experienced what we would call clinical depression today. Jefferson suffered from physical ailments such as back problems and headaches which contributed to his melancholy. Financial woes and personal loss deepened Jefferson’s depression. His wife, Martha, died after her last pregnancy at the early age of 33. It is said that following his wife’s death that he stayed in his room for three weeks and ventured out only to join his daughter Patsy on all-day rides on horseback.
• James Madison
James Madison has been described as one of the smallest and frailest of our presidents. As a young man he is said to have felt insecure about himself and had difficulty becoming independent from his family. Madison developed a depression characterized by inertia and wish for an early death. The death of his college roommate and best friend deepened his depression. Following his friend’s death he wrote to a friend: "As to myself, I am too dull and infirm now to look out for any extraordinary things in this world, for I think my sensations for many months have intimated to me not to expect a long or a healthy life . . . therefore have little spirit or elasticity to set about anything that is difficult in acquiring, and useless in possessing after one has exchanged time for eternity."