Winston Church and Abraham Lincoln are the two most significant political leaders to battle depression. Winston Churchill navigated his country though a radical period of change and was Prime Minister of England during World War II.
Churchill had a very distant relationship with this father. Often people with depression don’t have a close relationship with their father, predisposing them to anger or anger turned inward – depression. His first major episode with depression was in 1910, aged 35. Some days he described himself as almost unable to get out of bed, a sign of deep clinical depression. He would also fantasize about jumping in front of an oncoming train when on a platform.
“I don’t like standing near the edge of a platform when an express train is passing through,” he told his doctor. “I like to stand right back and if possible get a pillar between me and the train. I don’t like to stand by the side of a ship and look down into the water. A second’s action would end everything. A few drops of desperation.” *
Winston Churchill drank a lot, numbing the pain and self-medicating his depression. He had recurrent bouts of depression but would also experienced periods of hard work which led some historians to speculate if he had bipolar and these bouts occurring in the manic phase.
Churchill battled his Black Dog in an era preceding the wide understanding of mood conditions and the use of antidepressants. Like Abraham Lincoln he spent much time working on ways to curb his depression. What is notable in both men is the will to get well and the patience and endurance to see things through.
“Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in…” Churchill
Churchill battled depression for most of his life in various degrees. Toward later stages he had a series of strokes and may have had Alzheimer’s disease which would have contributed to the deterioration of his mental faculties. Did he ever completely completely beat depression? To put it simply: he knew how to tame it and get on with life and perform duties more than admirably. It never dominated the aims he had in life or his ability to lead others for the better. In that way he beat depression.
Churchill’s Useful Black Dog Metaphor
Churchill battled the “black dog” and while it’s debatable whether or not he coined that metaphor as a description of depression, he certainly popularised the expression. The black dog is a very useful metaphor for examining the effects of depression. A family dog is familiar with the master and they have an intimate relationship in which they share emotions, pleasure and pain. When the dog strikes unknowingly injury can happen, but dogs can be trained, mastered and their influence for harm can be controlled with the right action by the master. So it is too with depression. Sometimes depression can still strike even when the dog is well tamed, although its ability to devastate and injure is greatly reduced.
One of the leading depression institutes in Australia is called the Black Dog Institute, based in Sydney. The Black Dog Institute has released an excellent PDF documenting the history of the black dog, this link is included below. Another excellent resource is A Black Dog by Matthew Johnston. More information can be found on his site.
How depression may have helped Churchill
Dr Paul Keedwell, an expert on mood disorders at the Institute of Psychiatry in London said this to The Guardian:
‘Essentially, depression can give us new and quite radical insights – it can give us a way of responding effectively to challenges we have in life. In its severe form it is terrible and life-threatening, but for many it is a short-term painful episode that can take you out of a stressful situation for a while. It can help people to find a new way of coping with events or your situation – and give you a new perspective, as well as making you more realistic about your aims.*
This raised the interesting idea that Churchill’s depression was for a greater good. It gave him a keen perception and a unique form of clarity to view the German threat. Paradoxically when someone suffers depression, this ability to see facts with painful reality is also intertwined with grandiose notions of success and ambition. For most people that can definitely be damaging, although for Churchill and England it was needed.
Churchill demonstrated both clear perception and lofty ambition. Winston Churchill was able to use these gifts that mental health can offer for good. Please note that these forces of lofty ambitions and keen perception can also be harmful for people too – they are not necessarily a good thing in themselves. Many people who beat depression often find unique gifts in the arts such as music, writing and painting as expressions of their sensitive soul, as did Churchill who painted.
How Winston Churchill Beat Depression
Winston Churchill’s tenacity is legendary; the man just refused to give up. Beating Depression is not about necessarily trying harder and doing more but recovery requires a persistent attitude that is always willing to renew the will to change. Churchill always tried, always persevered and never gave up.
Winston Churchill was an accomplished artist, painting gave him a great refuge from depression. William Rees-Mogg has stated, “In his own life, he had to suffer the ‘black dog’ of depression. In his landscapes and still lives there is no sign of depression.”Churchill was persuaded and taught to paint by his artist friend, Paul Maze, whom he met during the First World War. Churchill enjoyed the pleasant impressionistic style.
Winston Churchill has an inquisitive and intellectual mind. He wrote a six volume memoir on the Second World War and the epic the History of the English-Speaking Peoples.
Writing also helped Emma Thompson beat depression. Writing can effectively take you out of your own thoughts. It helps the the mind focus on something else. Like painting, writing ensured his mental faculties didn’t veer toward inertia and decay when facing severe depression.
People can and do beat depression but it is a long term commitment. Thanks for reading remember to leave comments below (Facebook or WordPress) and follow How I Beat Depression on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
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References and further readings
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