Happiness is eternally variable. But these little, simple things can help.
We’re not suggesting that you can reach a permanent state called “happiness” and remain there. But there are many ways to swerve off the path of anxiety, anger, frustration, and sadness into a state of happiness once or even several times throughout the day. Here are twenty ideas to get you started. Choose the ones that work for you. If tuning out the news or making lists will serve only to stress you further, try another approach.
1. Practice mindfulness. Be in the moment. Instead of worrying about your checkup tomorrow while you have dinner with your family, focus on the here and now — the food, the company, the conversation.
2. Laugh out loud. Just anticipating a happy, funny event can raise levels of endorphins and other pleasure-inducing hormones and lower production of stress hormones. Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, tested 16 men who all agreed they thought a certain videotape was funny. Half were told three days in advance they would watch it. They started experiencing biological changes right away. When they actually watched the video, their levels of stress hormones dropped significantly, while their endorphin levels rose 27 percent and their growth hormone levels (indicating benefit to the immune system) rose 87 percent.
3. Go to sleep. We have become a nation of sleep-deprived citizens. Taking a daily nap or getting into bed at 8 p.m. one night with a good book — and turning the light out an hour later — can do more for your mood and outlook on life than any number of bubble baths or massages.
4. Hum along. Music soothes more than the savage beast. Studies find music activates parts of the brain that produce happiness — the same parts activated by food or sex. It’s also relaxing. In one study older adults who listened to their choice of music during outpatient eye surgery had significantly lower heart rates, blood pressure, and cardiac workload (that is, their heart didn’t have to work as hard) as those who had silent surgery.
5. Declutter. It’s nearly impossible to meditate, breathe deeply, or simply relax when every surface is covered with papers and bills and magazines, your cabinets bulge, and you haven’t balanced your checkbook in six months. Plus, the repetitive nature of certain cleaning tasks — such as sweeping, wiping, and scrubbing — can be meditative in and of itself if you focus on what you’re doing.
6. Just say no. Eliminate activities that aren’t necessary and that you don’t enjoy. If there are enough people already to handle the church bazaar and you’re feeling stressed by the thought of running the committee for yet another year, step down and let someone else handle things.
7. Make a list. There’s nothing like writing down your tasks to help you organize your thoughts and calm your anxiety. Checking off each item provides a great sense of fulfillment.
8. Do one thing at a time. Edward Suarez, Ph.D., associate professor of medical psychology at Duke, found that people who multitask are more likely to have high blood pressure. Take that finding to heart. Instead of talking on the phone while you fold laundry or clean the kitchen, sit down in a comfortable chair and turn your entire attention over to the conversation. Instead of checking e-mail as you work on other projects, turn off your e-mail function until you finish the report you’re writing. This is similar to the concept of mindfulness.
9. Garden. Not only will the fresh air and exercise provide their own stress reduction and feeling of well-being, but the sense of accomplishment that comes from clearing a weedy patch, watching seeds turn into flowers, or pruning out dead wood will last for hours, if not days.
10. Tune out the news. For one week go without reading the newspaper, watching the news, or scanning the headlines online. Instead, take a vacation from the misery we’re exposed to every day via the media and use that time for a walk, a meditation session, or to write in your journal.
11. Take a dog for a walk. There are numerous studies that attest to the stress-relieving benefits of pets. In one analysis researchers evaluated the heart health of 240 couples, half of whom owned a pet. Those couples with pets had significantly lower heart rates and blood pressure levels when exposed to stressors than the couples who did not have pets. In fact, the pets worked even better at buffering stress than the spouses did.
12. Scent the air. Research finds that the benefits of aromatherapy in relieving stress are real. In one study people exposed to rosemary had lower anxiety levels, increased alertness, and performed math computations faster. Adults exposed to lavender showed an increase in the type of brain waves that suggest increased relaxation. Today you have a variety of room-scenting methods, from plug-in air fresheners to essential oil diffusers, potpourri, and scented candles.
13. Ignore the stock market. Simply getting your quarterly 401(k) statement can be enough to send your blood pressure skyrocketing. In fact, Chinese researchers found a direct link between the daily performance of the stock market and the mental health of those who closely followed it. Astute investors know that time heals most financial wounds, so give your investments time — and give yourself a break.
14. Visit a quiet place. Libraries, museums, gardens, and places of worship provide islands of peace and calm in today’s frantic world. Find a quiet place near your house and make it your secret getaway.
15. Volunteer. Helping others enables you to put your own problems into perspective and also provides social interaction. While happy people are more likely to help others, helping others increases your happiness. One study found that volunteer work enhanced all six aspects of well-being: happiness, life satisfaction, self-esteem, sense of control over life, physical health, and depression.
16. Spend time alone. Although relationships are one of the best antidotes to stress, sometimes you need time alone to recharge and reflect. Take yourself out to lunch or to a movie, or simply spend an afternoon reading, browsing in a bookstore, or antiquing.
17. Walk mindfully. You probably already know that exercise is better than tranquilizers for relieving anxiety and stress. But what you do with your mind while you’re walking can make your walk even more beneficial. In a study called the Ruth Stricker Mind/Body Study, researchers divided 135 people into five groups of walkers for 16 weeks. Group one walked briskly, group two at a slow pace, and group three at a slow pace while practicing “mindfulness,” a mental technique to bring about the relaxation response, a physiological response in which the heart rate slows and blood pressure drops. This group was asked to pay attention to their footsteps, counting one, two, one, two, and to visualize the numbers in their mind. Group four practiced a form of tai chi, and group five served as the control, changing nothing about their lives. The group practicing mindfulness showed significant declines in anxiety and had fewer negative and more positive feelings about themselves. Overall they experienced the same stress-reducing effects of the brisk walkers. Better yet, the effects were evident immediately.
18. Give priority to close relationships. One study of more than 1,300 men and women of various ages found that those who had a lot of supportive friends were much more likely to have healthier blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood sugar metabolism, and stress hormone levels than those with two or fewer close friends. Women, and to a lesser extent men, also seemed to benefit from good relationships with their parents and spouses. Studies also find that people who feel lonely, depressed, and isolated are three to five times more likely to get sick and die prematurely than those who have feelings of love, connection, and community.
19. Take care of the soul. In study after study, actively religious people are happier and cope better with crises, according to David Myers, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. For many people faith provides a support community, a sense of life’s meaning, feelings of ultimate acceptance, a reason to focus beyond yourself, and a timeless perspective on life’s woes. Even if you’re not religious, a strong spirituality may offer similar benefits.
20. Count your blessings. People who pause each day to reflect on some positive aspect of their lives (their health, friends, family, freedom, education, etc.) experience a heightened sense of well-being.
What we medicate today was seen as genius in history. For the Fourth of July, this article analyzes the compulsiveness of Thomas Jefferson, one of our founding fathers.
David DiSalvo, “The Compulsive Mr. Jefferson and America’s Obsessive Origins,” Forbes.com http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddisalvo/2013/07/02/the-compulsive-mr-jefferson-and-americas-obsessive-origins/ (accessed July 3, 2013).
While waiting for his draft of the Declaration of Independence to come to the floor of the Second Continental Congress for a history-making vote—Thomas Jefferson was thinking about the weather. More specifically, he was thinking about a list that would comprehensively capture variations in the climate at minimum three times daily, for as long as…well…for as long as it needed to be captured (which turned out to be a good long time).
On July 4th, three days after his climactic list was launched, he recorded four readings (Philadelphia was 68 degrees at 6 a.m. and eventually hit a tepid 76 by early afternoon), and—despite a few other things going on that day—also managed to squeeze in a walk to a local gadget store to buy a new thermometer fit for the mission.
Jefferson, like so many prodigious thinkers before and after him, was an obsessive—or what we’d later come to call a sufferer of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD). And as argued in Joshua Kendall’s insightful new book, America’s Obsessives: The Compulsive Energy That Built a Nation, we should be happy that he was.
In Kendall’s telling, Jefferson’s preoccupation with the weather during what was the most momentous series of events in his life (and in the fledgling nation’s existence) made incredibly good sense. Jefferson knew that the best counterweight to the massive strain and anxiety filling his days was to indulge an obsessive proclivity that would fill his mind—or at least enough of it to make the stress bearable. For this he chose one of the many scientific pursuits that grabbed his attention from childhood on: a fascination with the weather. And like any good obsessive, he employed a list—a three-column list in this case—to track and analyze data…lots and lots of data.
This was but one of Jefferson’s countless obsessive fascinations, and but one of countless lists. He was a man addicted to list-making, “addicted to his routines,” and equally addicted to mathematical precision, though the amount of money he compulsively spent to feed his obsessions, and the resulting debt, is legendary.
Kendall’s book covers a range of American thinkers and achievers–from across an expanse of topics, politics to sex to sports–and meticulously pulls out the threads in each of their personalities that evidence an undeniable interweaving of the obsessive and the brilliant.
Jefferson is the author’s emblematic choice for obsessive thinking (what he calls “obsessive innovation”) in American politics. Other categories include Marketing represented by ketchup mogul Henry Heinz, described as “more than just quirky…a mentally unstable man who lived close to the edge for most of his life”; Sexuality, embodied by the good sex doctor Alfred Kinsey, behind whose “inner torment was a lonely child’s terror”; Beauty, whose standard bearer Este’e Lauder openly admitted that “obsession is the word for my zeal”; and Sports, represented by baseball icon Ted Williams who embraced a bat, in part, to balance the formative angst of “growing up with a domineering mother whom he feared.”
These and other personalities—each flavored by doses of obsessive thinking that radically changed everything they touched—are for the author symbols of a driving force that benefits all of us. Without the compulsiveness of a Jefferson or a Jobs, America wouldn’t just be different, but arguably shades less promising.
Kendall drives home this point especially with respect to Jefferson by observing how the statesman’s limitless compulsive energy—energy that regularly woke him throughout the night—pushed him toward excellence even when the payoff was unclear.
When the Declaration of Independence was finally published and read aloud in town after town—hardly anyone knew who penned it. Crowds of cheering Americans didn’t care that a man named Thomas Jefferson had authored the document that grandly signified their broken ties with the mother country. It wasn’t until 1784 that Jefferson was mentioned in a newspaper article as the document’s primary author—and, more remarkably, it wasn’t until the 1790s when he ran for president that Jefferson even claimed authorship.
While our nation’s history isn’t littered with so many examples of obsessive greatness cloaked in humility, the author’s portrait of Jefferson (who fittingly leads off the book) gives us plenty of reasons to be glad that it has occasionally happened. Amid compulsive bouts of indexing and labeling his expansive library, fine-tuning myriad data points underlying his inventions, and finding new ways to perfect gardening techniques—Jefferson invested his energy in a project that changed the world.
Kendall’s book is a tribute to the paradox captured by another slightly eschew genius, John Dryden, who wrote: “Great wits are sure to madness near allied, and thin partitions do their bounds divide.” America’s obsessives may all qualify as at least a little mad; for some “mad” wouldn’t begin to cover it. But the plain truth is that their mad energy—applied with precision and chaos in unequal measure—is a key ingredient in what makes America, America. Especially in the case of Mr. Jefferson, that statement couldn’t be more true.
Hello all. This post is just a basic overview of adult ADHD. It is sparked by my recent unfriending of a person who went on a rant stating that there is no such thing as ADHD and that it’s ruining people. While I agree that it is overdiagnosed that does not mean it does not exist at all.
“Adult ADD / ADHD Signs, Symptoms, Effects, and Treatment”
Life can be a balancing act for any adult, but if you find yourself constantly late, disorganized, forgetful, and overwhelmed by your responsibilities, you may have ADD/ADHD. Attention deficit disorder affects many adults, and its wide variety of frustrating symptoms can hinder everything from your relationships to your career. But help is available—and learning about ADD/ADHD is the first step. Once you understand the challenges, you can learn to compensate for areas of weakness and start taking advantage of your strengths.
Attention deficit disorder is not just a problem in children. If you were diagnosed with childhood ADD/ADHD, chances are, you’ve carried at least some of the symptoms into adulthood. But even if you were never diagnosed with ADD/ADHD as a child, that doesn’t mean you can’t be affected by it as an adult.
ADD / ADHD: It’s not just for kids
Attention deficit disorder often goes unrecognized throughout childhood. This was especially common in the past, when very few people were aware of ADD/ADHD. Instead of recognizing your symptoms and identifying the real issue, your family, teachers, or other parents may have labeled you a dreamer, a goof-off, a slacker, a troublemaker, or just a bad student.
Alternately, you may have been able to compensate for the symptoms of ADD/ADHD when you were young, only to run into problems as your responsibilities increase. The more balls you’re trying to keep in the air—pursuing a career, raising a family, running a household—the greater the demand on your abilities to organize, focus, and remain calm. This can be challenging for anyone, but if you have ADD/ADHD, it can feel downright impossible.
The good news is that, no matter how it feels, the challenges of attention deficit disorder are beatable. With education, support, and a little creativity, you can learn to manage the symptoms of adult ADD/ADHD—even turning some of your weaknesses into strengths. It’s never too late to turn the difficulties of adult ADD/ADHD around and start succeeding on your own terms.
Myths and Facts about ADD / ADHD in Adults
MYTH: ADD/ADHD is just a lack of willpower. Persons with ADD/ADHD focus well on things that interest them; they could focus on any other tasks if they really wanted to.
FACT: ADD/ADHD looks very much like a willpower problem, but it isn’t. It’s essentially a chemical problem in the management systems of the brain.
MYTH: Everybody has the symptoms of ADD/ADHD, and anyone with adequate intelligence can overcome these difficulties.
FACT: ADD/ADHD affects persons of all levels of intelligence. And although everyone sometimes has symptoms of ADD/ADHD, only those with chronic impairments from these symptoms warrant an ADD/ADHD diagnosis.
MYTH: Someone can’t have ADD/ADHD and also have depression, anxiety, or other psychiatric problems.
FACT: A person with ADD/ADHD is six times more likely to have another psychiatric or learning disorder than most other people. ADD/ADHD usually overlaps with other disorders.
MYTH: Unless you have been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD as a child, you can’t have it as an adult.
FACT: Many adults struggle all their lives with unrecognized ADD/ADHD impairments. They haven’t received help because they assumed that their chronic difficulties, like depression or anxiety, were caused by other impairments that did not respond to usual treatment.
Source: Dr. Thomas E. Brown, Attention Deficit Disorder: The Unfocused Mind in Children and Adults
In adults, attention deficit disorder often looks quite different than it does in children—and its symptoms are unique for each individual. The following categories highlight common symptoms of adult ADD/ADHD. Do your best to identify the areas where you experience difficulty. Once you pinpoint your most problematic symptoms, you can start to work on strategies for dealing with them.
Common adult ADD / ADHD symptoms: Trouble concentrating and staying focused
Adults with ADD/ADHD often have difficulty staying focused and attending to daily, mundane tasks. For example, you may be easily distracted by irrelevant sights and sounds, quickly bounce from one activity to another, or become bored quickly. Symptoms in this category are sometimes overlooked because they are less outwardly disruptive than the ADD/ADHD symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity—but they can be every bit as troublesome. The symptoms of inattention and concentration difficulties include:
- “zoning out” without realizing it, even in the middle of a conversation.
- extreme distractibility; wandering attention makes it hard to stay on track.
- difficulty paying attention or focusing, such as when reading or listening to others.
- struggling to complete tasks, even ones that seem simple.
- tendency to overlook details, leading to errors or incomplete work.
- poor listening skills; hard time remembering conversations and following directions.
Common adult ADD / ADHD symptoms: Hyperfocus
While you’re probably aware that people with ADD/ADHD have trouble focusing on tasks that aren’t interesting to them, you may not know that there’s another side: a tendency to become absorbed in tasks that are stimulating and rewarding. This paradoxical symptom is called hyperfocus.
Hyperfocus is actually a coping mechanism for distraction—a way of tuning out the chaos. It can be so strong that you become oblivious to everything going on around you. For example, you may be so engrossed in a book, a TV show, or your computer that you completely lose track of time and neglect the things you’re supposed to be doing. Hyperfocus can be an asset when channeled into productive activities, but it can also lead to work and relationship problems if left unchecked.
Common adult ADD / ADHD symptoms: Disorganization and forgetfulness
When you have adult ADD/ADHD, life often seems chaotic and out of control. Staying organized and on top of things can be extremely challenging—as is sorting out what information is relevant for the task at hand, prioritizing the things you need to do, keeping track of tasks and responsibilities, and managing your time. Common symptoms of disorganization and forgetfulness include:
- poor organizational skills (home, office, desk, or car is extremely messy and cluttered)
- tendency to procrastinate
- trouble starting and finishing projects
- chronic lateness
- frequently forgetting appointments, commitments, and deadlines
- constantly losing or misplacing things (keys, wallet, phone, documents, bills)
- underestimating the time it will take you to complete tasks
Common adult ADD / ADHD symptoms: Impulsivity
If you suffer from symptoms in this category, you may have trouble inhibiting your behaviors, comments, and responses. You might act before thinking, or react without considering consequences. You may find yourself interrupting others, blurting out comments, and rushing through tasks without reading instructions. If you have impulse problems, being patient is extremely difficult. For better or for worse, you may go headlong into situations and find yourself in potentially risky circumstances. You may struggle with controlling impulses if you:
- frequently interrupt others or talk over them
- have poor self-control
- blurt out thoughts that are rude or inappropriate without thinking
- have addictive tendencies
- act recklessly or spontaneously without regard for consequences
- have trouble behaving in socially appropriate ways (such as sitting still during a long meeting)
Common adult ADD / ADHD symptoms: Emotional difficulties
Many adults with ADD/ADHD have a hard time managing their feelings, especially when it comes to emotions like anger or frustration. Common emotional symptoms of adult ADD/ADHD include:
- sense of underachievement
- doesn’t deal well with frustration
- easily flustered and stressed out
- irritability or mood swings
- trouble staying motivated
- hypersensitivity to criticism
- short, often explosive, temper
- low self-esteem and sense of insecurity
mon adult ADD / ADHD symptoms: Hyperactivity or restlessness
Hyperactivity in adults with ADD/ADHD can look the same as it does in kids. You may be highly energetic and perpetually “on the go” as if driven by a motor. For many people with ADD/ADHD, however, the symptoms of hyperactivity become more subtle and internal as they grow older. Common symptoms of hyperactivity in adults include:
- feelings of inner restlessness, agitation
- tendency to take risks
- getting bored easily
- racing thoughts
- trouble sitting still; constant fidgeting
- craving for excitement
- talking excessively
- doing a million things at once
You don’t have to be hyperactive to have ADD / ADHD
Adults with ADD/ADHD are much less likely to be hyperactive than their younger counterparts. Only a small slice of adults with ADD/ADHD, in fact, suffer from prominent symptoms of hyperactivity. Remember that names can be deceiving and you may very well have ADD/ADHD if you have one or more of the symptoms above—even if you lack hyperactivity.
If you are just discovering you have adult ADD/ADHD, chances are you’ve suffered over the years for the unrecognized problem. People may have labeled you “lazy” or “stupid” because of your forgetfulness or difficulty completing tasks, and you may have begun to think of yourself in these negative terms as well.
Untreated ADD/ADHD has wide-reaching effects
ADD/ADHD that is undiagnosed and untreated can cause problems in virtually every area of your life.
- Physical and mental health problems. The symptoms of ADD/ADHD can contribute to a variety of health problems, including compulsive eating, substance abuse, anxiety, chronic stress and tension, and low self-esteem. You may also run into trouble due to neglecting important check-ups, skipping doctor appointments, ignoring medical instructions, and forgetting to take vital medications.
- Work and financial difficulties. Adults with ADD/ADHD often experience career difficulties and feel a strong sense of underachievement. You may have trouble keeping a job, following corporate rules, meeting deadlines, and sticking to a 9-to-5 routine. Managing finances may also be a problem: you may struggle with unpaid bills, lost paperwork, late fees, or debt due to impulsive spending.
- Relationship problems. The symptoms of ADD/ADHD can put a strain on your work, love, and family relationships. You may be fed up with constant nagging from loved ones to tidy up, listen more closely, or get organized. Those close to you, on the other hand, may feel hurt and resentful over your perceived “irresponsibility” or “insensitivity.”
The wide-reaching effects of ADD/ADHD can lead to embarrassment, frustration, hopelessness, disappointment, and loss of confidence. You may feel like you’ll never be able to get your life under control. That’s why a diagnosis of adult ADD/ADHD can be an enormous source of relief and hope. It helps you understand what you’re up against for the first time and realize that you’re not to blame. The difficulties you’ve had are symptoms of attention deficit disorder—not the result of personal weakness or a character flaw.
Adult ADD/ADHD doesn’t have to hold you back
When you have ADD/ADHD, it’s easy to end up thinking that there’s something wrong with you. But it’s okay to be different. ADD/ADHD isn’t an indicator of intelligence or capability. Certain things may be more difficult for you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find your niche and achieve success. The key is to find out what your strengths are and capitalize on them.
It can be helpful to think about attention deficit disorder as a collection of traits that are both positive and negative—just like any other set of qualities you might possess. Along with the impulsivity and disorganization of ADD/ADHD, for example, often come incredible creativity, passion, energy, out-of-the-box thinking, and a constant flow of original ideas. Figure out what you’re good at and set up your environment to support those strengths.
Armed with an understanding of ADD/ADHD’s challenges and the help of structured strategies, you can make real changes in your life. Many adults with attention deficit disorder have found meaningful ways to manage their symptoms, take advantage of their gifts, and lead productive and satisfying lives. You don’t necessarily need outside intervention—at least not right away. There is a lot you can do to help yourself and get your symptoms under control.
- Exercise and eat right. Exercise vigorously and regularly—it helps work off excess energy and aggression in a positive way and soothes and calms the body. Eat a wide variety of healthy foods and limit sugary foods in order to even out mood swings.
- Get plenty of sleep. When you’re tired, it’s even more difficult to focus, manage stress, stay productive, and keep on top of your responsibilities. Support yourself by getting between 7-8 hours of sleep every night.
- Practice better time management. Set deadlines for everything, even for seemingly small tasks. Use timers and alarms to stay on track. Take breaks at regular intervals. Avoid piles of paperwork or procrastination by dealing with each item as it comes in. Prioritize time-sensitive tasks and write down every assignment, message, or important thought.
- Work on your relationships. Schedule activities with friends and keep your engagements. Be vigilant in conversation: listen when others are speaking and try not to speak too quickly yourself. Cultivate relationships with people who are sympathetic and understanding of your struggles with ADD/ADHD.
- Create a supportive work environment. Make frequent use of lists, color-coding, reminders, notes-to-self, rituals, and files. If possible, choose work that motivates and interests you. Notice how and when you work best and apply these conditions to your working environment as best you can. It can help to team up with less creative, more organized people—a partnership that can be mutually beneficial.
If the symptoms of ADD/ADHD are still getting in the way of your life, despite self-help efforts to manage them, it may be time to seek outside support. Adults with ADD/ADHD can benefit from a number of treatments, including behavioral coaching, individual therapy, self-help groups, vocational counseling, educational assistance, and medication.
Treatment for adults with attention deficit disorder, like treatment for kids, should involve a team of professionals, along with the person’s family members and spouse.
Professionals trained in ADD/ADHD can help you:
- control impulsive behaviors
- manage your time and money
- get and stay organized
- boost productivity at home and work
- manage stress and anger
- communicate more clearly
Lately as I’ve been struggling more with ADHD, depression, OCD tendencies, and corresponding medication, etc. I’ve been thinking a lot about what kind of people have mental illness. Contrary to societal stereotypes, we are not all people rocking in the corner muttering to ourselves and unemployable. Some have struggles that interfere with their lives more than others.
I had some sort of an epiphany this week. I had always felt quietly bad about myself about starting medication when I reached the point that I had difficulties functioning without it. Then last week, out of the blue (as is always the case with my revelations), I realized that some of my most favorite and most educated, intelligent, hardworking people I know have some form of mental illness. I read an article that argued those with ADHD usually have a slightly higher IQ than the average population. I am curious as to why that is. Sure, I used aspects of my ADHD and anxiety to finish a master’s degree in eight months but I always thought it was an obstacle-that everything in my life is harder for me than everybody else because of the mental illness I live with. But after these realizations I started thinking, what if these “issues” are part of what makes me successful? Where would I be if I didn’t have ADHD that forces/enables me to seriously multitask? What about the anxiety that keeps me from procrastinating? The fact that I have to be super organized to function? Even though I still have days that I am frustrated when I can’t focus or have to take medication, maybe this is part of what makes me “me.”
I saw this article on another blog and it furthers my revelation. A study believes that 49 percent of former US presidents had a mental illness. I wonder if with greatness comes mental illness, or, the one I prefer, that despite issues one can still reach great heights. The study is listed below.
Hoffman, Haley. “Study Posits Presidents Had Mental Illness.” The Chronicle. February 21, 2006. http://www.dukechronicle.com/articles/2006/02/22/study-posits-presidents-had-mental-illness (accessed June 12, 2013).
“No one would ever expect the general who led the Union army to victory in the Civil War to have a debilitating fear of blood. But Ulysses S. Grant was among the 49 percent of former U.S. presidents afflicted by mental illness, according to an article published recently by psychiatrists at the Duke University Medical Center.
Jonathan Davidson, professor of psychiatry and director of the Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Program, has a particular interest in history, especially U.S. presidents. After culling data from presidential biographies, Davidson was joined by Kathryn Connor, associate professor of psychiatry, and Marvin Swartz, professor and head of the social and community division of psychiatry, to analyze the information. Together, they diagnosed the commander-in-chiefs from 1776 to 1974.
According to the study, published in January in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, of the 37 presidents researched, 18 were found to suffer a mental illness of some form. Depression was the most prevalent disorder among presidents, occurring at a rate of 24 percent. The researchers wrote that the 49-percent rate mirrored national mental illness statistics, but the rate of depression was high for a male population.
“A fairly high number of people have mental disease at some level, so it would be surprising if presidents didn’t,” said John Aldrich, professor of political science. “Certain things, like depression, are associated with artistic accomplishment.”
Other diagnoses included anxiety, alcohol abuse, bipolar disorder and social phobia. Howard Taft apparently suffered from sleep apnea.
At least 10 presidents were affected by episodes while in office, and the study found evidence that symptoms interfered with their performance in almost all cases.
To make their diagnoses, the researchers used the criteria of the DSM-IV, the Diagnostic Statistical Manual all psychiatrists use to treat patients. They examined the data to identify symptoms, determine if they were persistent and caused dysfunction and then establish their own levels of confidence that mental illness existed.
Such remote diagnosis through secondary research, however, can be problematic. “Using biographical materials may be an imperfect way to gauge mental illness,” Aldrich said. Swartz explained that detailed analysis of primary sources, while ideal, was outside of the scope of the study but that the published article elaborated on its own relevance and weaknesses. “You have to rely on what historians reported based on their research,” he said. Still, Swartz estimated that their sources erred on the side of undercounting illness among presidents.
The troubles of certain presidents are already very well known. Abraham Lincoln famously suffered from symptoms of depression, though he triumphed politically more than Franklin Pierce, whose more modest legacy the study attributed greatly to his illness.
Having witnessed the violent death of his son in a railway accident just before he assumed office, Pierce suffered from symptoms indicating depression or post-traumatic stress during his term. The study noted that his associates accused Pierce of being a different person than the one who had energetically campaigned for office.
While personal tragedy and the weight of the presidency may have incited the problems of some presidents, others were apparently afflicted long before they moved into the White House.
According to the article, contemporaries of Grant, James Madison, Rutherford Hayes and Woodrow Wilson who watched them as young men would have thought that these men would do very little with their lives based on their seeming mental problems or deficiencies.
Whether they were suffering from an illness before they entered the White House or not, presidents’ afflictions raise questions about their ability to do the executive job.
“The extensiveness of Richard Nixon’s alcohol abuse was pretty remarkable and alarming, given the authority he had,” Swartz said.
Though Calvin Coolidge’s hypochondria may not have had the most profound effect on affairs of state, Coolidge, Grant and Thomas Jefferson were diagnosed with social phobia by Davidson and his associates.
“Social phobia is kind of remarkable in a president. It meant he was shy and avoided social circumstances, and yet he was president,” Swartz said.
The study noted among its implications that no national calamities seem to have been a result of presidential mental illness.
It also considered the possibility that knowledge of these afflictions might lessen the stigma of psychological treatment. But there remains a question about the public’s right, and need, to know the psychological state of the president, in an age of increased psychological vigilance.
“It’s obviously about as stressful and physically demanding a job as there is for mature adults, so it has to at least exacerbate any [already existing] problems,” Aldrich said. “You know, the president is not a person, he’s an institution…. There are a lot of checks and redundancies to make sure he doesn’t do anything foolish.”
What do you think?