10 Historical Characters who Suffered Mental Disorders

Several famous people of history whose upheavals did not prevent them from transcending.


The presence of mental health problems has been very stigmatized throughout history, often suffering those who suffered mental disorders not only the effects of these but also a great rejection by society.

Problems such as depression, bipolar disorder, addictions or schizophrenia are not a new phenomenon, but have been present throughout history. And although sometimes these problems are invisible and hidden, the truth is that even great figures of history have experienced them in their flesh.

In order to improve the awareness and normalization of mental health problems, throughout this article we will review several historical figures who presented mental disorders, or whose behavior has been attributed to them.

Historical figures who presented mental disorders

In the following lines we will see a score of historical people who suffered mental disorders, among which we can find highly known names in literature, art or science.

Many of them were diagnosed with modern methods, while in other cases they are considered to have suffered through the analysis of their behavior or the testimonies or written records of the time in which they lived.

However, it is necessary to take into account that some of the figures have been attributed some disorder that there is no certainty that they had: it is not possible to diagnose someone who can not be evaluated and who does not have enough information.

Even in some cases in which there was a medical diagnosis, it is necessary to take into account the limitations of the time in which they lived can alter the conclusions that can be drawn, as well as what at a certain time was or was not considered a mental disorder.

Finally, it should be noted that many diagnostic labels have changed over time or have even disappeared or have been divided into different alterations, with what they were diagnosed then may be very different from what would be considered today.

1. Martin Luther King

Figures as influential as Martin Luther King also suffered serious problems. In the case of this pastor and political activist, who fought against racial segregation and for equality between blacks and whites, throughout his life he suffered various episodes of depression.

In his youth, some of them led him to have several suicide attempts after the death of his grandmother, but he managed to overcome them. He also suffered during his period of political activism, something that did not stop him when fighting for civil rights.

Of course, the context of someone who is constantly besieged by pressure groups and even organized violence favors the appearance of disorders such as depression; we should not understand this phenomenon as something that arises spontaneously in the individual.

2. Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens is another of the great authors who have suffered some kind of psychological problem throughout his life.

This author, as proposed by various researchers, suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder and dirt phobia.

3. Abraham Lincoln

One of the most admired presidents of the United States is Abraham Lincoln, famous among other achievements for the abolition of slavery and for achieving an end to the American Civil War. But although his achievements were many, the president number 16 of the United States had a difficult life and marked by the death of many of his loved ones.

He was known for his melancholy thinking, and according to various researchers he suffered a recurrent depression for much of his life, manifesting on several occasions the presence of thoughts of death and suicide (although over the years he would achieve some improvement).

4. Salvador Dalí

This great artist and one of the great representatives of Surrealism suffered towards the end of his life Parkinson’s disease, as well as a depression derived not only from this affectation but also from the death of his muse, Gala Éluard Dalí.

5. Robert Schumann

One of the most important German composers of Romanticism, Robert Schumann suffered what was then called early dementia, later known as schizophrenia. He saw visions related to religious figures, both angelic and demonic. He was interned for a time.
Nowadays, however, he is considered more likely to suffer a bipolar disorder with psychotic symptoms: he had periods in which he suffered from depressive episodes, although at other times he devoted himself exhaustively and passionately to performing compositions of great value (probably in manic or hypomanic episodes) ..

6. Joseph Stalin

This Russian dictator, although he played an important role in the defeat of the Nazis in World War II, is also responsible for the deaths of millions of Russians, political dissidents and even allies, during his well-known purges.

And although at present we can not make a firm diagnosis since there are few data we have regarding their physical and mental health, the existing data seem to reflect the existence of a high level of paranoia, which possibly contributed to their being carried out many of these purges: the dictator ordered the death or imprisonment of a large number of people, including one of his personal guards or different doctors who treated him and diagnosed him with different ailments (including atherosclerosis).

In fact, the neurophysiologist and psychiatrist Vladimir Béjterev came to diagnose and try to treat severe paranoia. Two days later said neurologist and psychiatrist appeared dead.

7. Marilyn Monroe

Considered one of the most attractive women in the world, and often underestimated despite being one of the smartest celebrities of the time, this well-known actress suffered different difficulties throughout her life, which led her to suffer problems such as depression severe and anxiety, which led her to be temporarily hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital.

She also developed a problematic relationship with alcohol and other substances.

8. Ronald Reagan

This well-known president of the United States suffered towards the end of his life one of the most cruel and frequent neurodegenerative diseases in the third age: Alzheimer’s disease.

Little by little the former president was losing faculties and was even unable to recognize his loved ones.

9. Franz Kafka

Despite having few published works, Kafka is one of the classic authors of universal literature. The author among other great works of The Metamorphosis also suffered different mental health problems.

Throughout his life the existence of sleep disturbances was frequent, specifically a very recurrent insomnia.

He is also considered to have suffered from depression, as well as social phobia and anxiety. Although there is no absolute agreement, based on his works, the records that exist regarding his behavior and some notes by the author have made some authors believe that the author could have suffered schizoid personality disorder.

10. Isabel of Bavaria

Isabel of Bavaria, also well-known like Sissí, was one of the last great empresses of Europe, concretely of Austria and Hungary.

This powerful woman, of great intelligence and culture and known for her rebelliousness, also suffered serious disorders throughout her life.

The Empress, who would have severe difficulties and conflicts with her political family and with the excessive pomposity, conservatism and rigidity of life in the court, suffered frequent depressions, especially after the death of her son. He used cocaine as an antidepressant, something usual at the time.

Among its various alterations, one of the most outstanding was the one of its alimentary problems. The empress expressed great concern to keep her weight under control, feeding herself in a very poor way and doing strenuous exercise sessions.

It is considered that he suffered bulimia and anorexia nervosa, something that greatly deteriorated his state of health and damaged his depressive state.