May is National Mental Health Month, helping to raise awareness of mental health and reduce the stigma associated with mental illness. Creativity has long been associated with mental health issues such as depression and bipolar disorder. Writers throughout the ages have struggled and some eventually committed suicide as a result of mental illness. With so many treatment options available today, and so much more understanding about mental illness, there is no reason for people to continue suffering in silence. Amid the headline-grabbing, tragic stories of creative people and their suffering, there are many stories of survival. Here is a list of four writers who lived with mental illness.
Isaac Newton famously wrote the “Principia Mathematica” describing the laws of motion and universal gravitation. The physicist, or natural philosopher as physicists were known at the time, suffered a nervous breakdown, probably depression, in the years 1692-93, possibly due to mercury poisoning from all the alchemical experiments he carried out. Newton recovered, was knighted in 1705, and continued his scientific experiments until his death at age 84.
Hans Christian Andersen, the children’s author, suffered from depression while still at school. He went on to write some of the most famous children’s stories of all time like “The Ugly Duckling” and “The Little Mermaid.” Andersen is commemorated around the world for his contributions to children’s literature.
Emily Dickinson the prolific poet only published a handful of poems during her lifetime. Her seclusion in later life is often attributed to some type of mental illness, possibly agoraphobia, the fear of wide open spaces. The first volume of her poems was published in 1890, four year after her death. A complete edition of her collected poems appeared in 1955.
Winston Churchill, the British statesman and politician was also a writer and painter. His nonfiction works include “The Second World War” and “A History of the English-Speaking Peoples.” He famously suffered from depression, the “black dog” as he called it, but managed to lead Britain as Prime Minister during World War II. Churchill won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953 and continued writing and painting until his death at the age of 90.