President Lincoln overcame the stigma of mental illness

Published 8:46 pm Monday, February 20, 2006

By Staff
On Presidents Day, we often find ourselves paying tribute to the powerful and revered presidents from our nation's history.
One of our most famous and celebrated presidents was Abraham Lincoln - but many people forget that his greatness came at a high personal cost.
It's a relatively unknown fact that our 16th president suffered from a mental illness. Often, stigmas associated with mental illness eclipse the great accomplishments of a person battling their illness or diagnosis. But for the most part, those who battle a mental illness still thrive in their careers.
Lincoln suffered from severe, incapacitating and occasionally suicidal depression and bipolar disorder. But he used his own personal turmoil to battle stigma, fuel grand achievements and to become known as one of America's greatest leaders.
Most people don't understand how common mental illnesses are in our society, and who are facing such struggles everyday.
One in five people are affected with a mental illness at one point in their life, and Michigan alone has 1.4 million adults with various forms of mental illness.
Instead of receiving compassion and acceptance, people with mental illness experience stigma everyday. Mental illnesses are real, common and treatable.
According to recent American Psychological Association (APA) statistics, approximately one out of every five Americans can expect to get some form of depression, and over one in 20 Americans has a depressive disorder every year.
Depression is one of the most common and most serious mental health problems facing people today. Stress often triggers depression and is a common component of everyday life. It contributes greatly to how we perceive and contend with day-to-day dilemmas.
Americans know Lincoln as the emancipator of slaves, the man who held America together in its darkest days. No one viewed him as someone who had a mental illness. That's how he overcame stigma - by being known by what he accomplished on the outside, not by what he was suffering from inside. He was able to face and overcome his illness by perseverance, staying positive and self-knowledge. Despite his inner turmoil, he persevered and served his nation eloquently.
Sharing stories of our personal mental illnesses, or those of people we admire, contribute to eliminating stigma. Stigma associated with mental illness is often disguised as fear - fear of the unknown. Don't be scared of what you don't know.
Seek knowledge and become educated. All of us are responsible for treating every person, without exception, with respect and compassion.
Lincoln was defined by his greatness, not his illness.