Depression: Lincoln’s black dog

Lincoln's black dog was his deep melancholy. It did not cost him the Presidency in 1860, but if he were running today his black dog would be more expensive. Photo: davhurak/flickr

WASHINGTON November 11, 2012 - How interesting that the movie Lincoln opened during the U.S. voting season because if Lincoln were running for President today he would never win. Imagine headlines during the campaign such as, “Lincoln Rumored to See a Psychiatrist.” A week later another might read, “Pharmacist admits filling antidepressant prescription for Lincoln.

Winston Churchill aptly referred to his dark moods as a black dog. Like a faithful dog, depression follows wherever its person goes. Sometimes the dog is far behind; you hope it found a new home. Then, it catches up, nips at your heels, starts yipping, and begins running about the legs, tripping you up. It might growl and show its teeth adding anxiety to the mix.

As people today might put it, depression bites.

Lincoln served in the Illinois legislature with Robert L. Wilson who later wrote about Lincoln’s melancholy.

In a conversation with him about that time (1836), he told me that although he appeared to enjoy life rapturously, still he was the victim of terrible melancholy. He sought company, and indulged in fun and hilarity without restraint, or stint as to time. Still when by himself, he told me that he was so overcome with mental depression, that he never dare carry a knife in his pocket. As long as I was intimately acquainted with him, previous to the commencement of the practice of the law, he never carried a pocketknife, still he was not a misanthropic. He was kind and tender in his treatment to others.

Think of the tweets a paragraph like that would spark today:

Lincoln is dangerous - too depressed to carry a pocketknife.

Lincoln swings as a monkey from rapture into terrible melancholy.

Kind and tender Lincoln too sensitive for White House.

Lincoln seen having fun? These are serious times, Abe.

In a letter dated 1841, Lincoln wrote, “A tendency to melancholy…let it be observed, is a misfortune, not a fault.

At least Lincoln did not blame himself for his dark moods as many depressed people do today. Faults are part of our character but misfortune is something everyone carries. Lincoln carried his misfortune into the Presidency, and shared the most distinguished office in the U.S. with a black dog.

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Jacqueline Marshall

Jacqueline Marshall is a writer for Help For Depression, and freelances primarily in the areas of psychology and personal development. She has a MA in Counseling Psychology and is a licensed therapist living near Chicago.

Jacqueline has experience helping those diagnosed with severe, persistent mental illness, and in providing general therapy services for individuals, couples, and families. Prior to counseling, she worked in graphic design and music education.

When not writing or counseling, Jacqueline enjoys reading literature and math-less books about quantum physics. She is a published poet, and has studied animal communication and energy healing.  


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