Historic Figures who have Self-medicated for Depression

Vincent Van Gogh – 1853 – 1890

Van Gogh, whose work strongly influenced 20th century art, was a post-impressionist painter. His work was known for its beauty, color and emotion. He suffered from bipolar disorder and misdiagnosed epilepsy. He chose absinthe to manage his condition. The toxin in absinthe, thujone, probably made his condition far worse than if he had done nothing at all. In 1888 he moved to the south of France where he lived on coffee, bread and absinthe.

While the exact course of events is not clear, his ear was severed and he presented it as a gift at a local brothel. No matter what the exact details, it is not the act of a mentally healthy person.

Unfortunately, throughout his life, he was poor, suffered from mental illness, depression and remained virtually unknown. In contrast, since his death, his paintings have sold for millions of dollars. Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear sold for an estimated $80-$90 million in the late 1990s.

Vincent Van Gogh died at the age of 37 by his own hand.

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Elvis Presley – 1935 – 1977

Elivs Presley, one of the few personages recognized by their first name only, starred in 33 films and was inducted into four music halls of fame. But all that success didn’t bring much happiness. Elvis had a history of nightmares, sleepwalking and disrupted sleep and would possibly be diagnosed as bipolar today.

By the mid-1950s, he started using amphetamines, which were legal at the time. They kept his weight down but also kept him awake. Elvis’s favorite painkiller was Dilaudid, but was by no means his only drug of choice. He never saw himself as a typical drug addict, because the drugs were prescribed by a physician.

When he died at the age of 42, Elvis was suffering from glaucoma, liver damage, high blood pressure and an enlarged colon. These ailments, if not caused by drug abuse, we aggravated by it. At the time of his death, his system contained Demerol, Morphine, Valium, Placidyl, Codeine, Quaaludes and more.

Charles Dickens – 1812 – 1870

By the time Dickens was in his early 30s, he was a world renowned author that had survived a difficult childhood. Suffering from insomnia, he would walk the city at night, searching for inspiration. Author of Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations and more, his friends wrote that he would fall into depression each time he started a new novel until he moved into a kind of mania by the time the work was finished. His depression worsened with age and eventually staunched his previously prolific output.

Dickens’ drug of choice was opium, a popular drug among novelists and poets of his era. He often frequented the areas where opium dens were found.

Dickens died from a stroke on June 9, 1870 at the age of 58. There is no indication that his opium use contributed to his death.

Ernest Hemingway – 1899 – 1961

The Nobel Prize winning author was known for his austere word choices, short, declarative sentences and accessible language. The author of A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea was also know for his love of alcohol.

Plagued by depression throughout his life, his self medication with alcohol was not the right prescription. By 1960, in an effort to treat his depression, he was receiving shock treatments that caused memory loss, which robbed him of what he valued most. After an unsuccessful suicide attempt in 1961, he finally succeeded on July 2, 1961, a few weeks before he would have turned 62.

Self-medicating doesn’t Work

Though it’s tempting, the short-lived relief will quickly recede and you will find yourself battling two diseases. The addiction caused by self medicating causes a dual-diagnosis. You can’t treat it alone, but help is available. Look for a treatment center.

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