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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.

Do you have any insight into bipolar from personal or professional experience
Your response was informed and intriguing.

Have you not done the same? Made a bunch of assumptions and just applied different illness labels to people just because they didn’t conform or were exceptional in some way. PS there was no “British” in Joan of Arc time. There was not even a UK

A diagnosis called Bipolar III stateside refers to depression that only becomes mania when treated with antidepressants. Amphetamine in parts of the world is used as an antidepressant. So we're uncertain as to whether Churchill was Manic Depressive or Bipolar III.

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.

Do you agree with Robert because of his opinion is very well written or that fact that a lot of alcoholics medicate their undiagnosed bipolar? Fact

Hi I read your essay and I was very impressed. I also have bipolar like Winston Churchill who I feel is one of the greatest heroes of our time
A man who was able to lead are great nation into peace when Germany was quickly going to have us all under his thumb and maybe taken over the world had Churchill not given in to his bullying ways. He also was aware of what he called his Dark Horse and perhaps medicated himself with alcohol. I found your essay very comforting and factual and I believe that having bipolar or any other mental illness if looked after is a gift. In my case I have been what doctors would consider a miracle recovery or remission and I could never lead a nation at War and do what Mister Churchill did for all of us but I have also overcome diversity in my Darkest Hours and never surrendered or gave in two this disease just like any other disease. I was to lived a normal life with a family two kids two cats, one dog,have my own home, I work children children value number of society and and grateful being given this gift of bipolar and that gives me the insight and bravery to move mountains similar to Mr Churchill my in my capabilities.

In honor of Bell let's talk hope are Society will look upon mental illness as a

gift from
God that with knowledge, support and medication can give insight to help humanity grow.

Wow what a fantastic essay, very well written! I could easily see you as a research reporter for a famous news company! Keep it up

Thank you Richard, you seem to have a deep understanding of how bipolar effects the human mind.
Regards Tracey

Churchill had what was not known then but now is known as bipolar II disorder. The symptoms of bipolar II are Severe depression, or what psychiatrists call major depression with mild mania, what psychiatrists call hypomania. If Winston was not hypomanic during WWII, he would not have had the confidence to take on Hitler and the world would be quite a different place then it is right now if Great Britain fell to the Nazi's in the 1940's

I have read the essay. I am also very widely read on the life of Winston Churchill. While he undoubtedly suffered from depression from time to time, it is utter nonsense to claim that he was bi-polar. He could not have accomplished all that he did, let alone led Britain and the free world through WW2 the way he did whilst being bi-polar in the way this is understood today. On the other hand, his son Randolph may well have exhibited this disorder. I'm sorry if this dents the enthusiasm of the essay writer, but this claim really is nonsense.

I'm not sure why a person could not transition between hypomania and depression and not be a great world leader. There are probably other world leaders who had bipolar and massacred people by the millions, yet they still lead nations and won large military battles. Lincoln suffered from chronic depression while he was unknowingly poisoning himself with mercury, yet he did what few could have ever done to build our nation.

Do you have bipolar? Why is it so hard to believe that someone suffering from this disease would not be able to lead a nation? Look online under great artists, musicians, writters, world leaders and then rethink your comments.
Please people get the facts your opinions are only that and really don't hold water.
I personally have bipolar and truly believe it is a God given gift not a crazy persons curse.
Do your research interview people living with bipolar before you give your well thought out opinions.
University studies and research are that but living the life of individuals who live with this disease are a whole new kettle of fish.

Good day, Tracey,

I completely agree with you that Bipolar Mood Disorder doesn't prevent anyone from living a very accomplished life

One only has to point to Kay Redfield Jamison's book 'Touched With Fire', to discover the inventory of great artists, musicians, writers, and world leaders who suffered from our condition

In my own case, I'm running an active social work practice, am a wife, mother, grandmother and actively involved in the community

The International Bipolar Federation has my story on their files if you would like to read it!

Best regards

Ruth Katz

I suffer from dipole depression. I am not as clever as Churchill but honestly it is a terrible disorder.. sorrowfully, I used to hide it but now I like to speak about it because many people are under the radar. I tried to suiside but I changed my view. I love life. Thanks God for creating me. Life is a good experience , a chance to see trees, to hear song and to know Churchill! Thanks God for creating me to read such a well established essay...

Thank you Robert Ye for your essay on Churhhill and Zeinba for your comment.
Zeinba we are one of the many living our lives with this mental illness but have also seen the gifts that unravelled before us because of it and by the grace of God have been strong enough to carry-on

Tracey believes dipole depression is gift of God. So do I. When I was 5 I witnessed the war between Iran and Iraq. I never forget dead bodies of those innocent people.ten years later I could really see the difference between social classes! I was beautiful but poor !!! Money matters: it was what I concluded. I tried to become rich ! But I never could!!! I witnessed earthquake, discrimination and darkness in a cage called the planet of earth.. my soul cried and began to scream as loud as possible.. depression was born!!! After its birth I soon saw the positive parts of my life: it doesn't matter you are poor or rich, black or white, witness of war or of peace, from high social class or low one, a man or a woman, ugly or beautiful... what matters a lot is: to play your role in theater of life as best as you can... my role is to be honest and happy! It was the gift of God..

I just read your blog. You are the voice in the wilderness calling out to all of us. You have been through much and still are able to help others by shareing your horrific life experiences, mental illness and still resonate that the goodness of humanity that shines despite any darkness that might try to destroy us.
God bless you.
You are kind, important and a radiant part of mankind.

he had ADHD as well

Very good thread. I have bipolar. It's difficult to live a normal life with this illness and whilst I have had some moderate achievements my life has been marred by it. It is extremely difficult to diagnose whilst the patient is alive let alone posthumously. Even family history can be misleading as mental illness can morph into many forms within siblings, offspring, parents, etc. Finally. Would I want more stability, less pain and less debilitating and probably life threatening medication? Definitely.

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