Monday, August 21, 2006

TO READ: Lincoln's Depression and His Writing
My friend, the Rev. Barbara Meyers, who does mental health ministry through our congregation, Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Fremont, CA, sent me the following fascinating information and quote from the book, Lincoln's Melancholy - How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness, by Joshua Wolf Shenk, Houghton Mifflin, 2005. (She is also responsible for all the excellent mental health resources and information at the "MPUUC" link on the right of this page.)

Barbara wrote:

The sub-title of the book tells it all. Lincoln had throughout his life bouts of depression. He learned how to handle them with a variety of coping strategies, among them writing. Here is a quote that I thought you might enjoy. It occurs at the start of the Civil War when the Union had some losses in battle.

"Not long after McClellan's calamities at the Peninsula, O.H. Browning [one of Lincoln's friends] came to the White House. The president was in his library, writing, and had left instructions that he was not to be disturbed. Browning went in anyway and found the president looking terrible - 'weary, care-worn, and troubled.' Browning wrote in his diary, 'I remarked that I felt concerned about him - regretted that troubles crowded so heavily upon him, and feared his health was suffering.' Lincoln took his friend's hand and said, with a deep cadence of sadness, 'Browning, I must die sometime.' 'He looked very sad,' Browning wrote. 'We parted I believe both of us with tears in our eyes.' A clinician reading this passage could easily identify mental pathology in a man who looked haggard and distressed and volunteered morbid thoughts. However, one crucial detail upsets such a simple picture: Browning found Lincoln writing." (page 183)

Lincoln coped by writing, especially writing poetry, and by reading poetry and the Bible and by storytelling, especially telling funny stories.

I add:
Writing has been a coping mechanism for many literary, artistic and musical, as well as historical, figures. (Interestingly, writers suffer from mood disorders at a rate 8-10 times that of the general public. Poets tend to have the highest rates.) Stay tuned... next week I'll discuss some of the authors and poets who have used writing to help cope with their depression.


Anonymous said...

Your work here is so very important. What a delight to see it expand and the nurturing continue right along side!! The Lincoln part about his writing has moved me deeply, so much so that I shall now go write myself because I can feel the depression descending today.
Thank you for your continual efforts to support us. You are doing an outstanding job.


Anonymous said...

Beth, I just perused the material from Barbara and I also want to offer a link to, though not on depression, it is a wonderful resource.
You may know it from Stanford.

Mark Solomons also from the Alameda Speakers group

Barbara Meyers said...

This is for Mark Solomons. Thanks for the pointer to I've added it to my list of web sites on my web pages.

Barbara Meyers

Elizabeth Maynard Schaefer, Ph.D. said...

Thanks from me too, Mark. I just reviewed for the first time in quite a while, and it is wonderful -- I'll add the link and let Peter, its author, know we're singing his praises.