Brilliant creativity often comes with turmoil, and many artists claim they do their best work when they’re struggling mental health-wise. Probably the most well-known example of this is Vincent van Gogh, who cut off his left ear while arguing with fellow artist Paul Gauguin. Today, it’s widely accepted that Van Gogh struggled with mental health issues.
This theme applies to writers as well. Many great authors who produced fantastic literature have also suffered from various mental health issues, including these six.
Six Famous Authors With Mental Illness
1. Ernest Hemingway
When famous writers with mental illness are mentioned, Ernest Hemingway is often the first name to come to mind. Hemingway was a brilliant American novelist, short story writer and journalist. Some of his most famous books include “The Old Man and the Sea” and “A Farewell to Arms.” Hemingway gained great recognition during his lifetime, earning a Nobel Peace Prize in Literature. Today, his works are considered classics that everyone should read.
Hemingway achieved his success despite lifelong mental health issues. He was known as a heavy drinker all his life and likely had an alcohol addiction. As Hemingway said, “An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with fools.”
Along with alcoholism, Hemingway suffered from severe depression, and his family had a history of depression; his father, brother and sister all committed suicide. In 1961, Hemingway received electroshock therapy to treat his mental health conditions. Unfortunately, this archaic treatment did nothing to help him, and he died by suicide just a few days later.
2. Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf was a famous English novelist, essayist and publisher. She’s given credit popularizing the stream of consciousness as a narrative device. Some of the more well-known Woolf novels include, “The Voyage Out,” “Mrs. Dalloway” and “Flush: A Biography.” Woolf is primarily known as a 20th-century female rights advocate, writing about the oppression of women. She once wrote, “As long as she thinks of a man, nobody objects to a woman thinking.” Woolf’s work is still taught and studied today in literature classes around the world.
Woolf didn’t have an easy childhood, and it resulted in some lifelong mental health issues. In 1895, Woolf’s mother died suddenly, and she suffered a mental breakdown. Just a few years later, her half-sister died. She also experienced sexual abuse from her half-brothers during her childhood.
All of this led to Woolf suffering from severe depression and mental breakdowns throughout her life. Despite becoming a successful writer, Woolf often saw herself as a failure. At the age of 59, she committed suicide by filling her pockets with stones and walking into a river.
3. Edgar Allen Poe
Edgar Allen Poe is a classic American short story author and poet. Some of his most famous works include, “The Raven” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Poe is often credited with creating the detective genre and frequently wrote dark, beautiful pieces. In a letter to a fan, Poe once wrote, “I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.”
Sadly, Poe’s mental illness struggles included chronic depression, possibly bipolar disorder, alcoholism and substance abuse. At one point, he reportedly tried to commit suicide by overdosing on laudanum. One year later, Poe died in a hospital from complications related to alcohol abuse.
4. Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath is considered one of the greatest American female writers of all time. She wrote short stories and novels but is perhaps most well-known for her poetry. Plath is credited with making “confessional poetry” famous. Her work often featured her own life experiences and illustrated her struggles with mental illnesses, such as depression. Plath’s two most popular poetry collections are “The Colossus” and “Ariel.”
Plath began suffering from clinical depression at the age of 19 while in college. The depression continued for years despite medications and electroshock therapy. Plath tried to commit suicide several times before finally succeeding at age 30 when she put her head into an oven with the gas running.
In 2001, psychologist James C. Kaufman coined the term “The Sylvia Plath Effect,” which suggests that poets are more likely than other creative writers to suffer from mental illnesses, such as depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
5. Leo Tolstoy
Russian author Leo Tolstoy is considered one of the greatest writers of all time. From 1902 to 1906, he received nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize in Literature each year. Tolstoy’s two most well-known books, “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina,” have unbelievable character development, detailed plots and realistic writing that grips the reader from the start.
Tolstoy came from a wealthy family, and his skills were recognized by everyone during his lifetime. Still, he had his struggles. In his book “The Confessions,” Tolstoy discusses his alcohol abuse, depression and thoughts of suicide. He writes, “I did not myself know what I wanted: I feared life, desired to escape from it, yet still hoped something of it.”
He died at the age of 82 from pneumonia.
6. F. Scott Fitzgerald
Author of “The Great Gatsby” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” F. Scott Fitzgerald published many books, short stories and essays during his lifetime. Interestingly, though, he became significantly more well-known after his death.
The author once stated, “The world only exists in your eyes. You can make it as big or as small as you want.” He and his wife Zelda lived a fast-paced life full of parties and luxury, similar to his character Jay Gatsby. Zelda was also an author and was diagnosed with schizophrenia in the 1930s. Fitzgerald suffered from depression, alcoholism and substance abuse. He died at the young age of 44 from a heart attack.
Creatives Should Seek Help if They Need It
Unfortunately, some artists affected by mental health issues have the misconception that the condition is the source of their creativity. In reality, authors struggling with mental illnesses should seek help.
Some of the famous writers on this list succumbed to an early death because they didn’t get the help they needed. In contrast, authors who get help can live long lives and enjoy successful careers. Stephen King, J.K. Rowling and Anne Rice are a few examples of authors who’ve publicly spoken about their mental health issues. Whether dealing with depression or substance addiction, these authors sought help and have thrived.
If you’re struggling with mental health issues, reach out to us at FHE Health today by calling (833) 596-3502 and learn how you can get the help you need and retain your creativity.