West Wing Blues: It's Lonely at the Top

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All told, almost half of American presidents from 1789 to 1974 had suffered from a mental illness at some point in life, according to a recent analysis of biographical sources by psychiatrists at Duke University Medical Center. And more than half of those presidents, the study found, struggled with their symptoms — most often depression — while in office.

"What is hopeful about this is that it is evidence that people can suffer from depression or other mental problems and still function at a presidential level, if not at their best," said Dr. Jonathan Davidson, who, along with Dr. Kathryn Connor and Dr. Marvin Swartz, cataloged symptoms from presidential papers and biographies, and identified those disabling enough to qualify as disorders. They reported their findings in the current issue of The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease.

The authors acknowledge the hazards and uncertainties of diagnosing from such a distance. But the lifetime rate of mental illness they found in these 37 presidents is identical to that found in some surveys of the American population.

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