From Psychopaths to Narcissists: U.S. Presidents Who Struggled With Mental Illness
While many question President Donald Trump’s mental health today, it isn’t the first time officials have questioned a leader’s mental fitness for the job. Nearly half of past U.S. presidents likely struggled with mental illness throughout their lives — many while in office. Here are some of the most notable ones.
Historians speculate that Abraham Lincoln endured his presidency while living with depression. He likely talked about suicide more than once when he was younger — a major warning sign of major depressive disorder. Those who knew him called it his “melancholy,” because he would often shift in and out of spells of sadness and despair.
Next: Many believed this president was unfit to lead America due to signs of poor mental health.
Ronald Reagan died from complications related to Alzheimer’s disease in June 2004. Dementia is technically considered a brain disorder and not a mental illness. However, if Reagan did show signs of the disorder while he was president, it severely impacted his mental health and ability to perform his job. Many members of his staff worried that he was unfit to lead the country.
Next: A president will do anything to continue serving his country. That’s not always a good thing.
John F. Kennedy
Kennedy suffered a number of physical ailments that he tried to hide from the public while president. Unfortunately, many believe this led to what could be considered long-term prescription drug abuse. This likely impacted his ability to perform as president.
Next: Bipolar disorder can result in extreme mood swings and reckless decision-making.
Experts estimate that Teddy Roosevelt lived with the type of bipolar disorder associated with alternating episodes of mania and depression. Those who knew him never failed to mention his tendency to gravitate toward reckless behavior. The example most often cited is his decision to embark on an expedition into unexplored territory, during which most of those accompanying him died.
Next: Many Americans live with substance abuse disorders — even presidents.
It’s not easy to hide an addiction when you’re the president of the United States. According to sources, Nixon tended to abuse alcohol and other drugs even while sitting as president. He didn’t manage his relationships well, often isolating himself amidst an already lonely occupation.
Next: America’s heaviest president had a hard time paying attention while conducting official business.
William Howard Taft
America’s heaviest president to date, William Howard Taft weighed over 300 pounds while in office. His body mass index hovered around 46, which would have classified him as morbidly obese by today’s standards. Taft also likely had a sleep disorder, dozing off during official meetings.
Next: Even America’s earliest leaders weren’t immune to psychological stressors.
As is the case with many former U.S. presidents, most of what we know about Adams’ mental state, we’ve gathered from anecdotal evidence. According to Live Science, the second president of the United States most likely lived with the second major type of bipolar disorder, characterized mostly by depressive episodes and milder stretches of mania.
Next: This president’s disability stayed in the shadows.
In 1919, Wilson suffered a stroke, which left him mentally unfit to finish out his term. Officials tried to keep this quiet for as long as possible. Before this, however, the president likely lived with depression and other health conditions.
Next: Narcissistic presidents are more likely to behave unethically and become impeached.
America’s more popular presidents tend to display higher rates of narcissism — which can be both good and bad. A little bit of narcissism makes leaders more confident and persuasive, says Psychology Today. Unfortunately, former leaders like Bill Clinton fell to the dark side of narcissism, engaging in unethical behaviors while sitting as president.
Next: We still don’t know for sure how this U.S. president died.
The exact cause of Warren Harding’s death and the events leading up to it remain a mystery. However, experts believe his many years of mental illness affected him physically, making him weak and likely increasing his risk of fatal infections and other conditions.
Next: Presidents are people, too — they’ve dealt with loss and grief as often as the average American.
According to the New England Historical Society, Pierce dealt with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as he entered his term in office. His final surviving son died in a train accident, and historians believe he never truly recovered from the tragic loss. He apparently struggled to perform his expected duties as president as a result of his mental illness.
Next: Franklin Pierce wasn’t the only president to lose a child.
Sometimes, symptoms of mental illness turn one tragedy into a lifetime of suffering. Like Pierce, Calvin Coolidge also lost a son unexpectedly, and suffered extreme mental and emotional distress as a result. Coolidge lost his son while serving as president, and reports describe spells of insomnia, indecisiveness, and irritability, all telltale signs of grief and depression.
Next: This president’s inappropriate behavior probably resulted from an underlying mental illness.
Despite his many accomplishments in a short amount of time, Lyndon B. Johnson often displayed terrible mood swings he couldn’t hide. He exhibited paranoid behavior, spoke erratically in public, and did not respond appropriately to criticism.
Next: Loneliness soured the presidency for this duel-obsessed warrior.
Aside from Jackson’s many physical ailments, the emotional trauma he endured likely made for a difficult presidency. His wife died of a heart attack before he became president, and he carried his grief with him for a long time following. He had few surviving blood relatives.
Next: More than one former U.S. president may have been a psychopath.
Martin Van Buren
Some of the most popular U.S. presidents have had psychopathic tendencies, including Martin Van Buren. According to an article in Fortune, it’s the presidents who were least popular that tend to rank lower on a theoretical psychopathic scale. Many experts have noted that psychopaths often hold professional positions of power — such as CEO, or commander-in-chief.
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