Did Winston Churchhill have bipolar disorder?

Mar 2016
1,079
Australia
#41
He most likely, did.

He called his depressive episodes his "black dog".
He only ever used the phrase "black dog" once, and I believe it was at the - in his own words - lowest point in his life, after being fired from the Admiralty in 1915 and being out of government. Anyone would feel depressed in these circumstances. It is not indicative of life-long feelings of depression. He had a lot of huge highs and massive lows in his career, but was remarkably resilient and always bounced back. He never indulged in self-pity or misery, he was always seeking to improve his situation. It is wildly inaccurate to say he had bipolar or depression of some sort. The evidence against such a claim is overwhelming, and the evidence in support extremely minimal. Armchair psychologists diagnosing historical figures from decades or centuries ago is something I particularly dislike.
 
Dec 2011
4,630
Iowa USA
#42
The evidence against such a claim is overwhelming, and the evidence in support extremely minimal.
He had a tough childhood, he had an awful father, he had a son that apparently manipulated him. I agree that armchair diagnosing of historical figures is a terrible use of the board's time. His personal road was very difficult and like in MANY biographies of great men, he seems to have had a need to be recognized. None of these facts should at all minimize his traits of courage and his remarkable ability to put (what I consider to be) the greatest language for inspiring prose to work to win the against the Axis.
 
Feb 2019
435
Pennsylvania, US
#43
He had a tough childhood, he had an awful father, he had a son that apparently manipulated him.
I think that many people have reason to have a depressed mood, but there are only certain individuals who go on to develop a major depressive episode... Two people can experience the same family traumas as children and emerge with two completely different outlooks on life. You can look at that as the difference in personality or just as a percentage of risk or genetic predisposition.

That said, there are accounts of Churchill's "depressed mood" (depressed mood being something everyone experiences)... but I have read things ranging from 'days spent in bed, paralyzed by depression' to what could just be 'melancholic mood'. Then people love to focus on his working in the wee hours of the night (insomnia), but others often point out that he would take an afternoon nap (so unusual sleep patterns, not reduced need for sleep). There are people who seem to think he talked briskly, incessantly, with a constant stream of thoughts... others who said he had focus and precision of mind (not lending itself to the definition of mania).

The 'Black Dog' reference to his mood was made in a letter to his wife, talking about a friend who was seeing a psychologist for depression. He mentions that he could use the same if he felt depressed in mood again, if the "black dog" returns. People with depression have latched onto the image of the black dog, as it does a pretty good job at relating the feeling of depression, like a constant companion shadowing your steps... maybe not a huge wolf consuming you, but just a black dog. Winston may not have meant the "black dog" comment the way people have taken it, but it was certainly used while he contemplated getting psychological help for it in future.

Churchill seemed to be tough to get along with. He was not charming or even always polite - he could either be pleasing and entertaining or quite insulting in public places (dinner parties and the like)... it seems hard to know which Churchill you would get. He may have just been an irritating guy - rude, artless and careless of other people's feelings (which I suppose is not necessary to be a 'great person' in history). If he was not in some way politically relevant, I doubt he would maintain relationships the way he did... and in the end, (and even in the beginning, before he happened to appear to have his hand on the pulse of events), I don't think he was a well-loved man by all who met him... I think he had some devoted people in his life, some who saw who he was at his heart (or saw his genius in some area) and loved him perhaps in spite of his tendency to be too hard at times. He had a wife who seems to have been an anchor that helped to channel his abilities and limit the damage of his failings.

I guess the posthumous 'psychologizing' can be irritating to some... studies show that everyone will develop a psychological disorder at some point in their life (though transient for many, something like a quarter of the population will struggle for the rest of their lives). So making suppositions that an individual had some internal struggle or disorder and trying to ID it is nothing more than an aspect of analyzing their nature, trying to understand them beyond the whitewash of 'greatness'.
 
Dec 2011
4,630
Iowa USA
#44
I think that many people have reason to have a depressed mood, but there are only certain individuals who go on to develop a major depressive episode... Two people can experience the same family traumas as children and emerge with two completely different outlooks on life. You can look at that as the difference in personality or just as a percentage of risk or genetic predisposition.
Well stated.

Lots of great people are "challenging" personalities. From my experience working in corporations, some of the most accomplished people I knew in my profession had difficult personalities and seemingly were difficult in their personal lives.

Hey, can't have everything! But people who are "ass kickers" by nature don't deserve to be labelled with some 21st century pejorative pertaining to "disorders".
 
Feb 2019
435
Pennsylvania, US
#45
I think people look for someone to hold up as an inspiration when they feel overwhelmed by physical or emotional ailments. I do it it myself - always looking for someone who suffered physically (preferably from lupus, but I'd take any autoimmune disease, since lupus is all but IMPOSSIBLE to definitively identify in the dead and rather irritatingly mercurial in nature in the living), so I like to 'claim' William Wilberforce and Alfred the Great (both sounding like they suffered from Crohn's/colitis, but I'll take them anyway ;) ). I think, whether consciously or not, everyone does this.

I would really like to believe that someone could have some milder form of bipolar and be able to still have historical significance / greatness if only to show that they were not limited by the 'constraints of fate' or mortality or what have you... it doesn't discount their life, but it elevates it, when you can tally it up and understand the full onslaught of what they overcame. Analysis of George III's letters show that he most likely was bi-polar (based on the rapid fluctuations of "madness" and "sanity")... but family upsets (his favorite daughter dying and leaving scandal in the wake of her death) seems to have exacerbated his illness to the point that he was no longer able to manage and died in a rather sad state. Even though there are possible moments of suicidal ideation with Churchill (his mentioning his fear of throwing himself under a train at the station), he seems to leave the stage "unbroken" at 90.

Still, I'd just like to see some solid source describing a manic state for Churchill... otherwise you can only say it was uni-polar, depression or depressed mood.
 
Mar 2016
1,079
Australia
#46
Still, I'd just like to see some solid source describing a manic state for Churchill
And we never will, because no such source exists. All of the diagnosing of him has been done by armchair psychologists that want to project their own image of Churchill onto the man, and make the evidence fit their agenda, not vice versa.
 
Likes: Futurist

arkteia

Ad Honorem
Nov 2012
4,722
Seattle
#47
He had a tough childhood, he had an awful father, he had a son that apparently manipulated him. I agree that armchair diagnosing of historical figures is a terrible use of the board's time. His personal road was very difficult and like in MANY biographies of great men, he seems to have had a need to be recognized. None of these facts should at all minimize his traits of courage and his remarkable ability to put (what I consider to be) the greatest language for inspiring prose to work to win the against the Axis.
And then there is another way to look at it. He had a difficult father. Was the father "awful" because of the disease he eventually died from, or did the father's personality was the sign of a certain mood disorder that Winston inherited, although in a different form? Lord Randolph Churchill himself was a brilliant man and expected to have an illustrious career.
 

arkteia

Ad Honorem
Nov 2012
4,722
Seattle
#48
I think people look for someone to hold up as an inspiration when they feel overwhelmed by physical or emotional ailments. I do it it myself - always looking for someone who suffered physically (preferably from lupus, but I'd take any autoimmune disease, since lupus is all but IMPOSSIBLE to definitively identify in the dead and rather irritatingly mercurial in nature in the living), so I like to 'claim' William Wilberforce and Alfred the Great (both sounding like they suffered from Crohn's/colitis, but I'll take them anyway ;) ). I think, whether consciously or not, everyone does this.

I would really like to believe that someone could have some milder form of bipolar and be able to still have historical significance / greatness if only to show that they were not limited by the 'constraints of fate' or mortality or what have you... it doesn't discount their life, but it elevates it, when you can tally it up and understand the full onslaught of what they overcame. Analysis of George III's letters show that he most likely was bi-polar (based on the rapid fluctuations of "madness" and "sanity")... but family upsets (his favorite daughter dying and leaving scandal in the wake of her death) seems to have exacerbated his illness to the point that he was no longer able to manage and died in a rather sad state. Even though there are possible moments of suicidal ideation with Churchill (his mentioning his fear of throwing himself under a train at the station), he seems to leave the stage "unbroken" at 90.

Still, I'd just like to see some solid source describing a manic state for Churchill... otherwise you can only say it was uni-polar, depression or depressed mood.
I don't think he was ever manic. Essentially, his diagnosis was not "bipolar I". Bipolar II, when the person does not have mania, merely hypomania (elated, euphoric, but very productive, state) is more common than bipolar I disorder. At the height of hypomania, people are still in touch with reality.

There is one more observation, and it is not a scientific one. High nervous energy typical for hypomanic states can be scattered on lack of sleep and chaotic activity, but some successful people gear it all towards something creative. This is how we get wonderful poems, books, speeches, paintings. Usually such people may not show signs of erratic behavior, because they are gifted with "creative outlet". I truly believe that this was Churchill's case.
 

arkteia

Ad Honorem
Nov 2012
4,722
Seattle
#49
Well stated.

Lots of great people are "challenging" personalities. From my experience working in corporations, some of the most accomplished people I knew in my profession had difficult personalities and seemingly were difficult in their personal lives.

Hey, can't have everything! But people who are "ass kickers" by nature don't deserve to be labelled with some 21st century pejorative pertaining to "disorders".
"Pejorative" says it all... It is owing to people like you who view mental illness as a stigma we have suffering people, and especially, men, who are afraid of asking for help.
 
Apr 2018
951
Upland, Sweden
#50
Nope. "Without being affected by alcohol" is really, the function of one's liver enzymes, not one's mood, but people from the North digest this substance fast enough.

They did an interesting study recently. Long story short, 29.6% of responders admitted to at least one episode of what would count as "mental illness". For women, they said, it was, "predominantly garden-variety" (!) stuff, i.e., depression, bipolar, anxiety. For men, it was mostly substance abuse. Indicating that they probably have the same "garden-variety", but either start self-medicating earlier, or merely are not expected to cry, and hence, don't seek help.
Allright, maybe, The person I know with bi-polar has suspiciously and weirdly high alcohol tolerance, unlike everyone else in her family so I'm not ruling anything out. But sure, it might simply be a completely unrelated genetic fluke. Maybe that is more likely.

Interesting study by the way!
 
Likes: arkteia

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