How Lincoln Survived His Depression

“No element of Lincoln’s character,” declared his colleague Henry Whitney, “was so marked, obvious and ingrained as his mysterious and profound melancholy.”

I’m not sure how many people know that Lincoln suffered from lifelong depression (it was essentially dismissed by an influential biographer in the 1940s), but those of us with depression could see it written clearly on his face.

As you can imagine, in the 1800s Lincoln’s options for treating his melancholy were very limited, and nearly as painful as the illness itself. Operating under the theory that melancholy was caused by an excess of black bile present in the body, the treatment regimen involved, among other tortures, bleeding, blistering, inducing vomiting and diarrhea, fasting, and mustard rubs and sweating followed by a cold bath. I’m guessing that the only reason this method saw any success was due to patients saying, “Yes, yes, I feel much better!” simply to get it to end.

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