Common symptoms of schizophrenia include hallucinations, delusions, and extremely disordered thinking and behavior. Like other forms of mental illness, schizophrenia can greatly impair a person’s day-to-day functioning and be extremely disabling. Despite its fairly recent discovery in 1887, schizophrenia has made a much larger dent in our history than we know. Keep reading for our mental therapy center’s history edition of famous people with schizophrenia.
Surely, most of us have noticed the prevalence of mental illness among history’s most brilliant minds. Time and time again, we’ve heard of great thinkers and creators falling into depression, suffering breakdowns, and taking their own lives.
While there is a significant stigma surrounding mental illness and creative genius, we can’t help but acknowledge that so many talented and historically impacting individuals have indeed shown signs of mental illness.
Today, we're diving into historical figures with mental illness, specifically schizophrenia, and their backstories.
Mary Todd Lincoln was the wife of America’s 16th president Abraham Lincoln. Mary was considered to be highly motivated, politically astute, and a devoted partner to her husband. However, by those who lived with her, she was considered to have a bad temper and sour disposition; the president’s private secretary even nicknamed her a “hellcat.”
She came from a wealthy Kentucky family yet was often criticized for her unflattering gowns by the press and society, which often portrayed her as a Confederate spy or “Western hick.” She also experienced great tragedy by losing three sons in her lifetime and eventually witnessing her husband’s assassination.
Later in life, her only remaining son had her forcibly committed to an asylum, something that was considered to be a humiliation. In addition to these reports, the First Lady also had a history of migraines, mood swings, fierce temper, excessive spending, and public outbursts throughout her husband’s presidency, symptoms that have caused historians and psychologists alike to speculate that Mary suffered from schizophrenia and/or bipolar disorder.
John Nash was an American mathematician whose specialty was in differential geometry, game theory, and partial differential equations. His theories are used in economics, computing, evolutionary biology, artificial intelligence, accounting, computer science, and more.
You may have heard of him from the nationally acclaimed Hollywood movie “A Beautiful Mind,” which was made to represent Nash’s life when he received his diagnosis and well into his old age. Nash’s mental illness first presented itself in the form of paranoia, a symptom that his wife later described as erratic behavior.
He seemed to believe that all men who wore red ties were part of a communist conspiracy against him. Eventually, Nash was admitted to McLean Hospital in April 1959, where he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and stayed through May of the same year.
The second son of the famous physicist Albert Einstein, Eduard Einstein, was born in Zurich, Switzerland. Eduard was known for being extremely intelligent and a successful student later in life, but he was known to have had a strained relationship with his father. As a youth, Eduard often suffered from frequent bouts of illness that prevented him from going on family trips with his parents and his older brother, Hans Albert. Eventually, signs of schizophrenia would surface even at Eduard’s young age.
Although there’s evidence suggesting that Einstein considered whether it would be better for his son to “depart before coming to know life properly,” paternal love won out in the end, and he would often accompany his son to various sanatoriums.
When he was older, Eduard’s love of psychiatry and all things Sigmund Freud drove him to follow in his father’s footsteps and enroll in Zurich University, although for psychiatry and not physics. Like his father, Eduard fell in love with an older woman at the university, a relationship that ended horribly.
It was at this point that Eduard’s mental health worsened and culminated in a suicide attempt in 1930. He was later officially diagnosed with schizophrenia and was admitted to Burghölzli, a psychiatric sanatorium in Zurich, in 1932.
John Hinckley Jr. was the man who attempted to assassinate U.S. President Ronal Reagan in 1981, making him one of the most notorious famous people with schizophrenia. Hinckley Jr. shot Reagan with a revolver as the president was walking out of the Hilton Hotel in Washington D.C.
The act was said to have been driven by an obsession with Jodie Foster and was considered by Hinckley Jr. to be an attempt to impress the actress. Later, his lawyer claimed that he was schizophrenic and had been diagnosed with schizoid personality disorder, a disorder in which people avoid social activities and interactions with others.
The disorder shares many symptoms with schizophrenia, including severely limited ability to make social connections and lack of emotional expression. Hinkley was found not guilty by reason of insanity and was placed under institutional care at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., where he still resides.
Although there’s been a lot of back forth about this particular diagnosis, another addition to our list of famous people in history with schizophrenia is Vincent Van Gogh. Van Gogh was a Post-Impressionist Dutch painter whose work is still celebrated and adored today.
His art included portraits, self-portraits, landscapes, and the still life of cypresses, wheat fields, and sunflowers. Painted in June 1889, arguably his most famous piece is “The Starry Night,” which ironically depicts the view from the east-facing window of his asylum room at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence just before sunrise.
Van Gogh completed most of his popular works of art in the last two years of his life and produced more than 2,100 works of art throughout his lifetime, including 860 oil paintings and over 1,300 watercolors, drawings, sketches, and prints. In addition to his artistry, he’s also well-known for cutting off his ear.
This occurred when tempers flared with artist Paul Gauguin, with whom Van Gogh had been working for a while in Arles. This is when Van Gogh's illness became clear: he began to hallucinate and suffered attacks in which he lost consciousness.
During one of these attacks, he used the knife to cut off his ear. Although the artist lived during an era in which schizophrenia had not received much attention, his eccentric personality and recurrent psychotic episodes in the last two years of his life led hundreds of doctors to believe that he most likely had schizophrenia in addition to other disorders.
Sadly, Van Gogh took his life at the age of 37.
Apparently, F. Scott would go as far as to steal verbatim excerpts from his wife’s private diary and incorporate them into his novels, a tactic that only served to inflame the already rocky relationship. In addition to alcoholism and violence, Zelda also greatly struggled with her mental health.
When the stock market crashed in 1929, a heartbreaking period known as The Great Depression, their over-the-top lifestyle crashed. Soon after, in 1920, Zelda was diagnosed with schizophrenia and spent the rest of her life in and out of various mental treatment centers.
In addition to the many historical figures with schizophrenia, this condition continues to affect thousands of people today. Although many of the individuals from the past didn’t receive the care they needed to live a happy life despite their diagnosis, our Boca behavioral health center is striving to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself.
If you or someone you love is struggling with a mental health disorder, Banyan Mental Health offers inpatient mental health treatment for disorders including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and more. Included in our levels of care are both individual and group therapy sessions as well as family therapy for our patients’ loved ones.
And of course, we also offer residential treatment for schizophrenia as well as outpatient options for those who have been impacted by the life-changing condition. No matter how long or how recently you’ve been diagnosed, our treatment specialists are here to guide you through every step of the way.
Call our Banyan mental health center at 8882804763 to get started today.