These 20 Historical Figures With Severe Mental Issues Helped Shape The World
These 20 Historical Figures With Severe Mental Issues Helped Shape The World

These 20 Historical Figures With Severe Mental Issues Helped Shape The World

Theodoros - November 27, 2018

These 20 Historical Figures With Severe Mental Issues Helped Shape The World
La Soupe, a masterpiece of modern art created by Picasso during the infamous Blue Period (1901-04). The Art Newspaper.

6. Pablo Picasso’s Dark Depression Gave Birth to an Iconic Painting Era

In 1901, Pablo Picasso was introduced to depression for the first time, which continued haunting him through the rest of his life. The depressive episode began following the suicide of a friend. His condition worsened throughout the following year and his artwork was greatly affected by his mental state. He predominantly painted grim subject matters such as prostitutes and beggars. This is how the “Blue Period” came into existence, a term used to define the works produced by the extraordinary Spanish painter between 1901 and 1904, when he painted essentially monochromatic paintings in shades of blue and blue-green, only occasionally warmed by other colors.

Ironically, these somber and melancholic paintings are now some of his most popular works, although he had difficulty selling them at the time. What’s even more interesting, scientists from Maynooth University in Ireland suggest that the meticulous analysis of Picasso’s works from that era, could shed light on how degenerative illness can be spotted years before other life-changing symptoms come to the fore. Some scientists go a step forward and claim that the insights to his works may lead to new research which could ultimately help diagnose the early stages of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

These 20 Historical Figures With Severe Mental Issues Helped Shape The World
Painting of the great composer. The Fact Site.

5. Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Possible Bipolar Episodes Would Often Damage the Output of his Compositions

Ludwig van Beethoven is famous for being one of the two (Mozart being the other) greatest classical composers in history, despite being deaf from a young age. Beethoven began to lose his hearing at the age of 28 and by the age of 44, his hearing loss was complete, most likely caused by compression of the eighth cranial nerve associated with Paget’s disease of bone. Beethoven’s head became large, while the composer had a prominent forehead, a large jaw and a protruding chin, features that are consistent with Paget’s disease.

However, some historians claim that being deaf wasn’t the biggest issue the composer had to face, but rather his regular manic-depressive episodes that often had a negative impact on his work. According to available historical sources, during these episodes, there was also degradation in his manners, which could be a symptom of his possible bipolar disorder. Beethoven died of liver disease, the result of his alcohol misuse.

These 20 Historical Figures With Severe Mental Issues Helped Shape The World
Stalin, transformed the Soviet Union into an industrial and military superpower, even though millions of his own citizens died during his brutal reign. About History.

4. Joseph Stalin’s Possible Mental Illness Could Explain his Incredibly Violent Behavior

Joseph Stalin ruled the Soviet Union for more than two decades, leaving a legacy of death and terror as he turned a backward Russia into a world superpower. According to Stalin’s physician, Alexander Myasnikov, the most recognized figure of communist history suffered from a series of mental issues including paranoid personality disorder and manic depression. Also, in his diaries, Myasnikov claims that Stalin suffered from atherosclerosis (the hardening of the arteries), which made his mental health even more fragile. This actually, could have been a factor in his political decision-making and violent actions.

Major atherosclerosis in the brain, which the doctors found at the autopsy, should raise the question of how much this illness – which had clearly been developing over a number of years – affected Stalin’s health, character and his actions, as Dr. Myasnikov wrote in the diaries, excerpts of which were published for the first time in the Russian newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets in 2011. Scientists concluded that character traits can easily become exaggerated, to the point a person becomes paranoid, and that it’s very possible Stalin may have lost his sense of good and bad, healthy and dangerous, permissible and impermissible because of his illness.

These 20 Historical Figures With Severe Mental Issues Helped Shape The World
Portrait of Ernest Hemingway (Original Caption). Fortune.

3. Ernest Hemingway Survived World War I, Malaria, Skin Cancer, Pneumonia, Two Plane Crashes, Hepatitis, and a Fractured Skull. But Depression Killed Him.

Hemingway, arguably the most celebrated American author of all time, was as manly as a man can be. The image of his father, a moody, bullying, and depressive man, haunted his life. He wanted to resurrect himself in order to release himself from the responsibility for his death and chose to do so by killing himself with his favorite shotgun. The real cause of his death remains unknown though. Was it an accident, a suicide, or a prevalent genetic killer that caused toxic levels of iron to flood the body, ultimately inciting depression and agony? Historians still debate the reasons behind Hemingway’s pulling of the trigger.

At the time of his death, Hemingway was 61 years old. According to Mayo Clinic, just days before his tragic death, the famous author was receiving treatment for what was thought to be hypertension and a “very old” case of hepatitis at Mayo Clinic, a reputable not-for-profit medical hospital. His doctor described his health as “excellent” just a month before he commits suicide. Ernest’s father, brother, sister, and granddaughter also ended their lives, a fact that seems to verify contemporary psychiatry’s suggestion that depression and suicide are in many cases inherited.

These 20 Historical Figures With Severe Mental Issues Helped Shape The World
A painting of Vincent Van Gogh after one of the artist’s most infamous moments. The Independent.

2. Vincent Van Gogh Cut his Earlobe Off and Offered it to a Prostitute

Although there’s no consensus on the world-famous painter‘s mental health, based on the evidence derived mainly from his behavior and actions, many competing hypotheses have been advanced as to possible conditions from which he may have suffered. Various symptoms are described in Van Gogh’s letters such as hallucinations, nightmares, absent-mindedness, insomnia, and anxiety. His infamous act of cutting off his earlobe and giving it to a prostitute and his eventual suicide leave little or no doubt that Van Gogh was mentally unstable. It’s also well-documented that the famous painter was hospitalized in the mental clinic of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.

On his good days, he would often paint in the institution’s walled garden. He was also given an extra room inside the clinic to use as a studio, where he produced a series of works, including copies of prints after paintings by artists like Rembrandt and Millet. But unfortunately, Vincent’s mental health continued to fluctuate. During one period of extreme confusion, he ate some of his oil paint, following which he was restricted to drawing for a while. Despite such relapses, the legendary painter was exceptionally productive at Saint-Rémy, where he completed around 150 paintings in less than a year.

These 20 Historical Figures With Severe Mental Issues Helped Shape The World
Painting of “Glass” King Charles VI of France. Interesly.

1. Charles VI of France Didn’t Allow People to Touch him Because he Believed he was Made from Glass

Despite ruling France for forty-two years (1380 to 1422), the notorious French king went down in history as “Charles the Mad” and in all honesty, the word mad might be too soft a description. Possibly suffering from various mental disorders, there were times he could not remember his name or that he was king, while he couldn’t recognize his wife and children occasionally. However, he is particularly famous for his glass delusion, an external manifestation of a psychiatric disorder recorded in Europe mainly in the late Middle Ages.

Charles believed he was made of glass and didn’t allow others to get near him so they wouldn’t touch him and break his body. Strangely, when he was unafflicted, the “glass” king loved to exercise and play popular physical sports of his era. When his demons appeared in his mind though, he became a different man. He could sit in a room motionless for hours or even days. Although contemporary psychiatrists are hesitant to diagnose with certainty historical mental illness without meeting the patient in person, they all seem to agree that other than glass delusion, Charles VI was a certified nutcake.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

History Collection – Famous People with Schizophrenia and Other Relatable Mental Illnesses

The Conversation – Winston Churchill and His ‘Black Dog’ Of Greatness

Langworth, Richard, ed. Churchill in his own Words, Ebury Press, 2008.

Heller, Reinhold, ed. (1984). Munch: His Life and Work. London: Murray.

Wood, Michael (2001). In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great: A Journey from Greece to Asia. University of California Press.

Google Arts & Culture – 4 Things You Might Not Know About ‘The Scream’

Moore, James (2009). “Darwin – A ‘Devil’s Chaplain’?”

ICR – Was Charles Darwin Psychotic? A Study of His Mental Health

Weaver, Helen. The Awakener: A Memoir of Jack Kerouac and the Fifties. City Lights, 2009.

Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Tiberius 26-32

Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Caligula 35

‘Lincoln’s Melancholy’: Sadder and Wiser – The New York Times

“The Zen of Disengagement: Diogene of Sinope”

Medium – Diogenes and the Naked Truth

Medium – The Life of And Funny Events Of Diogenes

Nayder, Lillian (2011). The other Dickens: a life of Catherine Hogarth

The Madness of Sir Isaac Newton – Futurism

The thread of depression throughout the life and works of Leo Tolstoy. NCBI.

Was Michelangelo’s artistic genius a symptom of autism? The Independent UK.

WebMD – Did Michelangelo Have Autism?

The Emotional Turmoil behind Picasso’s Blue Period – Artsy

NCBI – Creativity and Chronic Disease Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Clive, H. P. (2001). Beethoven and His World: A Biographical Dictionary

Brain illness could have affected Stalin’s actions, secret diaries reveal. The Independent.

Ernest Hemingway: a psychological autopsy of a suicide. – NCBI

Van Gogh and Mental Illness – Brain Pickings

“Biography of Charles VI the mad of France (1368-1422)”.