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8 Leaders Who Came Out of Mental Crisis 

Leaders, we need you in the front.

We need you to hold the fort.

We need you to lead our paths.

And now we need you to be open about mental health. Speak with us:

“Leaders Can Make It Safe For Others To Talk About Mental Health”

“Leaders Can Smash Stereotypes When They Talk About Mental Health”

We need more aware leaders in charge. 

If we look back in history, there is an embezzled list of bravehearts who took the stride and spoke about their struggle with mental health openly. They truly lead by example.

Today we bring you 8 such names who came out of their mental crisis bright and happy. 

Mental health issues plagued some of our most illustrious leaders. “Mania and psychotic illnesses boost creativity and trauma resilience, whereas depression boosts realism and empathy,” argues Nassir Ghaemi, a psychiatry professor who has studied the link between mental illness, psychotic disorders, and leadership extensively.

When times are good and the ship of state merely needs to sail straight, mentally healthy people function effectively as political leaders, according to Ghaemi’s research. In times of crisis and turbulence, however, those who are mentally ill, “even those suffering from psychotic diseases, become the most powerful leaders.”

Here we bring you 8 popular names from history and present, who not only fought their mental disorders, but also reached great heights. They welcomed the attention and the questions that came on their titles and job. But in the end, we only bow down to their fighter spirit. 

1. Sir Isaac Newton

While Sir Isaac Newton was regarded as one of history’s greatest geniuses, he is said to have suffered from a variety of mental health concerns. Scholars agree that the great physicists may have had psychotic tendencies, delusions, bipolar disorders, or even schizophrenia.

Newton’s life is a catalogue of the signs and symptoms of bipolar (or manic depressive) disorder, which he had for the majority of his life. Manic depression was dubbed “the sickness of geniuses” by Romantic writers, while others saw it as a necessary component of creativity. It was claimed that despair made one a perfectionist, while mania caused tremendous moments of production, faith in one’s own abilities, and the urge to show oneself right.

Newton showed early signs of bipolar disorder; he was a solitary child who didn’t play with other kids. He spent the majority of his time alone, inventing miniature mills, machines, carts, and other items. He was a high-strung, egocentric, and domineering individual. He was prone to wrath outbursts, which he aimed towards his friends and family. He eventually admitted to threatening his father and mother with “burning them and the home down.”

Despite his success and acclaim, Newton was apprehensive about exposing his work to peer review. He kept his calculus a secret until Leibniz claimed credit for being the first to discover it. He would not have published his most important work, the Principia, if it hadn’t been for the urging of his astronomer-friend Edmund Halley.

Newton stayed away from other people. He didn’t offer much to conversations when he had to communicate with others. He had a despotic relationship with other scientists. Those who ventured to disagree with him would be denied access to him. Newton looked for fights with both friends and adversaries.

Newton also had intense feelings of remorse, which he expressed by writing long lists of his ‘sins’ or wrongdoings. ‘Striking many,’ ‘punching my sister,’ and ‘peevishness with my mother’ were all on his list. Newton’s strong temper made him unpopular, and when he left home for Cambridge, his peers and servants cheered.

Newton only made one acquaintance among his Cambridge classmates. Anxiety, melancholy, fear, a negative impression of himself, and suicide ideas are all documented in his college notes.

Newton had hallucinations and had discussions with individuals he didn’t know when he was depressed. He became engrossed with alchemy and became preoccupied with religion. He secretly studied alchemy for 25 years, searching for mystical elixirs and penning hundreds of pages about it.

Newton acquired grandiose delusions, as do many people with bipolar disease.

Due to his mental illness, he was in excruciating pain and torment. “There is no progression without contraries,” wrote William Blake. “Human existence requires attraction and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate.”

This reminds us that the great Sir Isaac Newton was human too.

2. Abraham Lincoln

Joshua Wolf Shenk, author of Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness, writes in his first chapter,

“When you read the reminiscences of Lincoln’s friends and you hear him described in their terms, he’s always the most depressed person they’ve ever seen. It’s always this radical gloom that they were shocked by.”

Bipolar disorder, a diagnosis that did not exist during the time of Lincoln, is a mental disease characterised by episodes of severe mania and depression. The individual’s mood swings span from euphoric and irritated to depressed and despairing. With times of normal mood in between, this illness may recur.

There are no papers or recordings that show Lincoln suffering high/irritable mood swings on the opposite end of his hopeless ones, and there is no absolute confidence about what triggered Lincoln’s spells of sadness. Lincoln’s sensitive emotional state was shown through two key sources: his personal letters and the recorded observations of those who were present at the time.

There’s no denying that Lincoln struggled with depression at times throughout his life.

With Lincoln, we had a man whose depression forced him to explore the heart of his being; whose struggle to stay alive helped him develop critical skills and talents, even as his depression lingered hauntingly; and whose inimitable character drew immense power from the piercing insights of depression, creative responses to it, and a spirit of humble resolve built through decades of deep suffering and serious longing.

3. Winston Churchill

In his middle age, the twice-over Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, who led the country to victory in World War II, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Winston Churchill freely discussed his sadness, referring to it as his “black dog.” He was known for making the most of his circumstances, and he frequently took advantage of sleepless nights by channelling his energy into his work. During his stint as Prime Minister, he wrote 43 books. In 1953, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Winston Churchill is well-known for many things, but few people are aware that he may have struggled with mental illness Churchill was recognised for his determination, but he was also notorious for his unpredictable behaviour, which included binge drinking and acting erratically.

Churchill appears to have had various anxieties and fears for decades of his life, such as standing too close to balconies or train platforms. While this could have been a phobia, it’s also possible that Churchill didn’t always trust himself to act sensibly when faced with the option of ending his life. Churchill’s sadness often incapacitated him, suggesting he suffered from manic depression.

During these bouts, he was known to spend much time in bed with little energy, no interests, no appetite, and difficulty concentrating. This caused him to be minimally functional when it came to his duties and responsibilities. These periods of despair could last a few months, and after them, he would come out of it and appear to be acting like his normal self again. 

In a 1911 letter to his wife, Churchill expressed the possibility that he would want professional assistance in treating his “black dog.” Churchill had a lot of energy when he was well, and he was known for staying up late reading and studying. He was notorious for coming up with a slew of new ideas when he was in a good mood.

This contradicting conduct is common in people who suffer from manic depression or bipolar illness. Furthermore, Churchill’s mood swings were likely exacerbated by the amount of alcohol he consumed.

Winston Churchill’s “black dog” was tamed because he accepted that he needed assistance and sought it out.

Asking for the help you need can be difficult, but it can have great life-changing benefits. 

4. Princess Diana 

Diana refused to play the part from the moment she joined the “stiff upper lip” generation of royals. She spoke up on problems that the royals would rather not discuss —Mental Health.

And, in the latter stages of her marriage, she was open about her dissatisfaction with Prince Charles and the long-term emotional damage he caused her.

Diana spoke openly about the mental abuse and unfaithfulness she faced in her marriage, her breakdowns and bulimia, and even her suicide attempts in audio tape recordings she made for journalist Andrew Morton, which resulted in the memoir “Diana: Her True Story.”

The news of Diana’s death sent shockwaves around the world. According to one study, once Diana revealed her own bulimia nervosa, there was an increase in people reporting eating disorders. The “Diana effect” was coined by the press.

She also fostered honesty in others when it came to mental health because of her compassion and openness to share her personal experiences. In June 1993, she spoke at a Turning Point conference about the necessity of treating mental health problems, particularly those of women.

“Isn’t it normal not to be able to cope all the time? Isn’t it normal for women as well as men to feel frustrated with life? Isn’t it normal to feel angry and want to change a situation that is hurting?” she asked. “Perhaps we need to look more closely at the cause of the illness rather than attempt to suppress it. To accept that putting a lid on powerful feelings and emotions cannot be the healthy option.”

Diana will always be known as the “People’s Princess” in the United Kingdom. She had genuine concern for others who were less fortunate, and she encouraged others to speak up about situations that affected them by being candid about her own troubles.

That legacy is significant in the mental health awareness movement, and her boys are determined to carry it on.

Diana soon switched her focus away from her miserable marriage and onto more positive efforts, devoting endless hours to charitable work and working to influence public perceptions of everything from HIV and AIDS to leprosy. She also focused on her two sons, giving them both a modern approach to monarchy that placed a premium on human rights.

5. Rabindranath Tagore

According to a new biography, celebrated Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore lived a lonely life and suffered from depression on a regular basis.

One of his worst periods of depression, according to his biographer Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, occurred in 1914, a year after he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Tagore has been dubbed “Bengal’s Shakespeare.” 

He penned poems and short stories, and he created the national anthems of both India and Bangladesh.

Tagore suffered from depression in 1914, according to the biography, a year after becoming the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature for his collection of poems, Gitanjali.

From the book, Rabindranath Tagore: An Interpretation, “Tagore again speaks of a ‘breakdown’, ‘deep sadness,’ but in February he claimed to have been healed in the seclusion of the boat he occupied on the banks of the Padma in north Bengal.”

“I was incredibly lonely as a child – it was a defining element of my childhood. I didn’t see my father very often because he was frequently away… After my mother died, I was left in the care of the domestic servants.” Tagore said in a letter he penned to a close friend.

Mr Bhattacharya quotes Tagore as saying to a friend that he would “pass many months absolutely alone without speaking,” until his “own voice grew thin and weak through lack of use.”

According to the book, the poet’s loneliness stemmed from “disappointment with the support he received from his people, especially the Bengalis, a sense of loneliness in his life as an institution-builder in a community, and a hostile, or at best apathetic worldview.”

Tagore remarked that the celebrations by his compatriots after he won the Nobel Prize in 1913 were a “momentary excitement” since he thought that only a few individuals fully understood his work.

One of his most renowned songs, Ekla Chalo Re (If They Do Not Answer Thy Call, Walk Alone), was written in 1905 when he felt alienated, according to his biographer.

His mind was in turmoil, not only as a result of the partition of Bengal, but also as a result of his inability to win the attention and support of prominent nationalist leaders in the anti-partition movement.

6. Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama, the former First Lady of the United States, said she has been diagnosed with “low-grade depression”. Why is this the case? She talked about the pandemic, racial tensions in the United States, and the political turmoil that surrounded it all.

While “we’ve been through difficult times in this country before,” Obama underlined that “we are in a unique juncture in history… We are living through something that no one in our lifetimes has lived through.”

Some excerpts from the interview are:-

“As a 57-year-old, I can attest to that. You build your own tools over the course of your maturity, and for me, it’s turning off the distressing sounds,” she continued. “Recognizing that I can’t keep reading all of the feeds that are driving my worry and taking a vacation from them.” That was something I did as First Lady. There were times when I couldn’t stand hearing negative news about the country I had to serve in. Because I am aware that the news does not accurately reflect the state of the country.”

“I pull back from it. I surround myself with things that make me feel good: Family, friends, walks, exercise. So when I talk to my kids about that, I try to urge them to understand that the valleys are temporary and so are the peaks. They can be temporary. And they have to be prepared to handle the highs and the lows.”

Obama has previously spoken about her personal struggles with depression. On Spotify’s “The Michelle Obama Podcast” in August 2020, she discussed how the epidemic was affecting her emotional condition (including some venting about those who refused to follow CDC public-health standards) and racial unrest in America, particularly in response to the death of George Floyd.

In 2020, she said on her show, “I’m waking up in the middle of the night because I’m worried about something or there’s a heaviness.” “I try to get a workout in every day, even though there have been times during my quarantine when I’ve just felt too low.”

7. J. K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling battled serious depression before writing the first Harry Potter book. Rowling gained the fortitude to confront her demons and emerge victorious despite having no place to call home, no work, and a child to care for.

J.K. Rowling is well known for her beloved Harry Potter novels, but she has a side that many Muggles are unaware of. While caring for her newborn baby and dealing with the effects of her recent divorce, Rowling, then in her twenties, penned the first book in the series. During this time, she also struggled with depression and had suicide thoughts.

At numerous events and talks, she has been vocal about her battle. 

“It’s so difficult to describe depression to someone who’s never been there, because it’s not sadness. I know sadness. Sadness is to cry and to feel. But it’s that cold absence of feeling — that really hollowed-out feeling.” — J.K. Rowling

“I have never been remotely ashamed of having been depressed. Never. What’s there to be ashamed of? I went through a really tough time and I am quite proud that I got out of that.” — J.K. Rowling

Her despair was lifted when she began writing and saw her vision come to life. 

Rowling recognised the therapeutic value of writing in overcoming despair. Not just a little bit of writing, but making it a daily discipline and sticking to it. Writing adds order to one’s life, counteracting the unstructured and chaotic lifestyle that mental illness can bring. Second, writing allows people to escape their heads. Concentrating on the page and letting everything out is therapeutic, contemplative, and healing. Writing connects the two hemispheres of the brain and promotes better brain function.

She’s willing to talk about her sadness in an effort to de-stigmatize a disease that affects millions of people around the world. While popularity has been tough for her at times, she has handled it brilliantly, is a dedicated humanitarian, and has conducted herself with grace and compassion.

8. Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey has had a lot of ups and downs in her life. Winfrey suffered with melancholy after her first box office disappointment. She says she felt as though she was hiding behind a veil.

While she has talked to individuals on her talk show about what it’s like to be depressed, she said she couldn’t understand it until she went through it herself. “I could never envision it,” she remarked. “What exactly is depression?” “Why don’t you just get up?” says the narrator.

While it’s natural to feel heartbroken or depressed after a setback, Oprah’s sadness lasted six weeks, according to her. Symptoms of clinical depression normally persist four to eight months, but they can continue considerably longer in some cases.

For people who develop situational depression though, symptoms usually last until the individual has adjusted to a new situation.

However, just because your depression is temporary does not imply it should not be addressed seriously or that you do not deserve expert care. This meant slowing down and cultivating gratitude for Oprah. For others, this may imply seeking professional assistance and receiving additional support.

According to Winfrey, the event taught her that she couldn’t base her entire self-worth on her work. “Do the task as an offering, and then whatever happens, happens,” she said.

Make A Promise to Be A Mentally Aware Leader Today

While over 60% of U.S. employees experienced signs of a mental health disorder in the previous year, the same amount had never spoken to anybody at work about their mental health status, according to a study by HBR.

While mental health literacy is rising, too many of us still believe in outdated concepts like the one that claims people with mental illnesses can’t work.

People want their bosses to make the platform available to them. It will be necessary for corporate leaders to share their tales publicly and inside their businesses in order to reduce workplace stigma. When leaders fight for mental health, they not only spark change within their organisations, but they also inspire others to follow in their footsteps.

If you are a leader willing to take that step forward, it’s important to look into the mirror first. Are you willing to address your own mental health challenges? Talk to a leadership coach. 

Read here how a leadership coach can help a leader grow out of these mental shackles of anxiety and depression.