Mental Health in History

Mental Health in History: Abraham Lincoln

Matt Kuntz with ChatGPT

ChatGPT and Matt Kuntz

June 14, 2023

Oil Painting of Abraham Lincoln
Oil Painting of Abraham Lincoln

Written by ChatGPT based upon Prompting by Matt Kuntz. Matt added addition historical details and sources.

Abraham Lincoln's Hidden Battle: Overcoming Depression


Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, is revered for his role in leading the country through the tumultuous years of the American Civil War and the abolition of slavery. But what many people may not know is that this influential leader also battled a formidable personal struggle: depression. In this blog post, we will explore Lincoln's hidden battle with depression, how he overcame it, and how his experiences may have shaped his leadership style.

Early Life and Emotional Struggles

Born on February 12, 1809, in a one-room log cabin in Kentucky, Lincoln faced numerous challenges from the very beginning. His family was poor, and he lost his mother at a young age. Growing up with little formal education, Lincoln found solace in reading books, which helped him develop a keen intellect and strong moral compass.

Lincoln's first bout with depression can be traced back to his early 20s. In 1835, he experienced a severe depressive episode after the death of Ann Rutledge, a woman he was romantically involved with. This tragic event triggered a period of intense melancholy and suicidalitythat deeply affected him.

At one point his friends took away his knife in order to prevent Lincoln from harming himself.

In a letter to his law partner, Lincoln wrote, "I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth. Whether I shall ever be better I can not tell; I awfully forebode I shall not."

Professional Success and Personal Struggles

As Lincoln's political career advanced, his depression seemed to follow. He was often described by his contemporaries as being prone to fits of sadness and introspection. However, despite his emotional struggles, Lincoln's resilience and determination enabled him to continue his work in public service.

Throughout his career, Lincoln's depressive episodes were met with support from his friends and colleagues. One of his closest friends, Joshua Speed, provided emotional support and helped Lincoln through some of his darkest moments.

Overcoming Depression through Leadership

As President, Lincoln's leadership style was often described as empathetic and compassionate. It is believed that his personal experience with depression enabled him to connect with people on a deeper level and to appreciate the hardships they faced.

Lincoln's struggle with depression may have played a role in shaping some of his most crucial decisions during the Civil War. His ability to persevere in the face of immense personal and political challenges was a testament to his strength of character.

One of the ways Lincoln coped with his depression was by relying on humor. He was known for his wit and storytelling abilities, which he used to diffuse tense situations and maintain a sense of perspective during the darkest days of the Civil War.

Lessons from Lincoln's Battle with Depression

Abraham Lincoln's struggle with depression provides several valuable lessons for modern-day individuals facing similar challenges:

  1. Seek support from friends and loved ones: Like Lincoln, do not be afraid to lean on those who care about you during difficult times.

  2. Use humor as a coping mechanism: Lincoln's ability to find humor in even the bleakest situations helped him maintain his sanity and persevere.

  3. Channel adversity into positive action: Lincoln's experience with depression may have deepened his empathy for others, which in turn made him a better leader.

  4. Recognize that depression does not define you: Lincoln's achievements as a President and his ability to overcome adversity remind us that it is possible to rise above depression and achieve greatness.


Abraham Lincoln's hidden battle with depression is a compelling aspect of his life story that highlights the strength of his character. By examining his journey, we can better understand how Lincoln overcame adversity and emerged as one of the most celebrated leaders in American history. His experience also serves as a powerful reminder that even the greatest among us can struggle with mental health issues, and he is an example that we must reach out to others for help and support.

Related Reading:

"Lincoln's Great Depression." The Atlantic. October 2005.

A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness by Nassir Ghaemi (June 2012)

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