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Winston Churchill and Mental Illness

Robert Ye

This essay won 3rd Place in our 2015 Essay Contest and was written by Robert Ye, a high school student in Chappaqua, New York, USA. 

Widely regarded as one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century, Winston Churchill is believed to have suffered from bipolar disorder. After observing numerous symptoms such as depression, suicidal intention, mania, and a decreased need for sleep, Churchill's doctor, Lord Moran, recounted in his memoir Winston Churchill: The Struggle for Survival, that he had diagnosed a middle-aged Churchill with bipolar disorder. Churchill often referred to his periods of intense and prolonged depression as his "black dog." During these fits of lengthened, manic-depression, Churchill exhibited little energy, few interests, losses of appetite, and trouble concentrating, according to his wife Clementine. On the other side of the spectrum, when his "black dog" had become docile, Churchill exhibited abnormally high levels of energy and restlessness, often beginning to work at 8 am and ending work at around 2 am. Unfortunately, these times of abnormal productivity receded as his "black dog" returned after just a few months of absence. Churchill, despite the difficulties brought by his crippling depression, disregarded his affliction and fulfilled a life of purpose and achievement. 

Churchill accepted his mental condition and helped to benefit the lives of many people. In 1911, Churchill pushed through periods of depression and began to prepare Great Britain for war. He established the Royal Naval Air Service after noting Germany's growing bellicose nature, anticipating an imminent conflict (World War I). Churchill's depression is believed to have increased his realism and empathy, helping him assess the true dangers that were otherwise overlooked by his colleagues. Similarly during World War II, Churchill's heightened skepticism allowed him to realistically evaluate the ever-growing German threat. In World War II, Churchill kept his "black dog on a leash" and kept British spirits high. Regularly delivering rallying speeches to Parliament and British citizens, Churchill soon became an iconic leader of the war effort against the Axis powers. Churchill's foresight and inspirational influences undoubtedly saved the lives of many people and may have even changed the courses of both World War I and World War II. Churchill inadvertently benefitted from his depressive episodes and, his manic episodes. Granted with a rare surge of energy, activity, and restlessness, Churchill published 43 books while upholding his duties as acting Prime Minister. The acme of Churchill's career as a writer was his acceptance of the 1953 Nobel Prize in Literature, which honored a number of his published works. 

Churchill's unbelievable accomplishments are proof that, despite being challenged with bipolar disorder, individuals in today's society can still achieve great things. Churchill's adamant nature towards his depression and advantageous use of his mania can motivate individuals and show that it is possible to overcome impairments and pursue excellence. Churchill's hardheadedness to his disorder benefitted the Allied Powers in World War I, the Allies during World War II, and his literary endeavors. Just like Buzz Aldrin, Theodore Roosevelt, Ted Turner, and many other historic figures who suffered from bipolar disorder, Winston Churchill overcame his manic-depressive illness and lived a life of fulfillment.


What a delightful essay. Next to Lincoln, I believe the historical figure I would most like to have met would be Churchill. On a recent visit to London, I returned to the Churchill war rooms. The experience was far different than my previous tour with the inclusion of an interactive museum chronicling the varied and numerous experienced by the Prime Minister. Chronicled are the ups, as well as the downs, but he serves as inspiration to me as I tackle my illness. 43 books? Golly. When I returned, I inhaled the four volume History of the English Speaking People, later The Boer War, and am finishing the first volume devoted to the history of WWI, The Great. Crisis. While the military jargon in the latter is difficult to following, the way Churchill arrives at decision making is most fascinating.

Well-researched and well-written. Bravo!

Hope is good!

Very good article by an under graduate student. Keep up the good work buddy

There is no doubt that Churchill suffered from depression. As to his "bipolar disorder," what history fails to tells us...his doctors prescribed him large dosages of amphetamines for the depression, which he combined with copious amounts of booze, which explains his manic and often odd temperament. Despite a mild stroke in 1949, he lived until the ago of 90. But he was a definite exception to the rule. Chances are good that the "bipolar" diagnosis is yet another example of the general absurdity of psychiatric diagnoses in general, assigned to the patient in retrospect, and without taking into account other factors (like substance abuse). Not an attack on your article - it's a well-written start, but please dig a little deeper next time. Newton has been retroactively diagnosed with everything from Asperger's to schizophrenia, when Voltaire noted he "showed no commerce for women," but he pursued intense male friendships that ended abruptly, without explanation, and always with a "nervous breakdown." As to his hallucinations, traces of mercury were found in locks of his hair. It's more likely that he was a conflicted, closeted gay male in the 1600's and suffered from "Mad Hatter's Syndrome." Joan of Arc was schizophrenic for a long time, (impossible given the large-scale military campaigns she orchestrated) until she was retroactively diagnosed epileptic because of her "hyper-religiosity." Because the British tried her many times - and tempted her into sin, but always failed - she is one of the most documented historical figures from that time. There is no mention in the historical records of convulsions or other common symptoms of epilepsy. In fact, she was so composed that even those her persecuted her noted her astonishing purity of spirit. My point is this: It's a good paper, but like most people, you seemed to have bought into the validity of psychiatric diagnoses when there is no forensic etiology for any psychiatric disorder. It's an arbitrary and often fictional cluster of symptoms driven by professional consensus - and not science. I ask that you look at the individual within their context before you accept what psychiatry has never proven - it's a pseudoscience that must be held to much higher levels of scrutiny. So little has changed. Psychiatry still assigns a diagnosis without any objective screening or the requirement to ask about the patient's substance abuse, lack of nutrition (often associated with psychiatric disorders) or any other contextual variables. Thanks for letting me share.

Thank you Robert for your opinions. Very interesting. I also agree that external factors like alcoholism and excess medication are pivotal to a person's behaviour aside from their bipolar condition.

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