Blogging Against Stigma: Abraham Lincoln
Welcome to the final post in week 1 of my series, Blogging Against Stigma. Posts in this series, to date, are available here. Someday, with a cumulative effort across society, people may stop dying from things like depression, anxiety, and psychosis. Towards this end, this post is dedicated to President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865), elected 16th president of the United States. Lincoln fought against the confederacy to end slavery, and led a remarkable life prior to his 1865 assassination. But, being human, his life was not without difficulty. President Lincoln struggled with major depressive disorder and, in his lifetime, he was quoted as arguing against the misconception that depression (or melancholy as it was referred to in his lifetime) was not the fault of the person suffering from it. As this is still an argument we're having to make over 150 years after his death, President Lincoln's struggle is being shared as a means of combating the one remaining factor that continues to haunt our approach to mental health as much today as it did throughout Lincoln's lifetime - stigma.
Lincoln's struggles with depression exemplify the factors within life that contribute to the development of any emotional difficulty, and those for which we have no control over. Under the stress-vulnerability model of mental illness, a combination of genetic predisposition and life experience lead to the development of mental health issues. For President Lincoln, research indicates both a genetic predisposition and significant life stressors. By the time Lincoln was only 19 years old he had only his father left living. His only brother and both sisters had died, as has his mother when he was only 9 years old. While grief is certainly not a mental illness, significant losses - especially in one's formulative years - certainly do not act as protective factors for those predisposed to develop mental illness.
Ultimately, I think Lincoln's example helps to illustrate how wrong we are, as a society, when we ask another person, "What do you have to be depressed about?" No matter how successful you become, whether the president of the United States for example, your ability to stop mental illness is about as good as your ability to stop cancer. Asking a question like, "What is your problem - why are you so depressed?" should be considered synonymous with one's ability to ask a question like, "What is your problem - why would you develop a tumor?"