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Military Connection: The Powerful Connection Between Mental Illness and Leadership

mental health

By Debbie Gregory.

So often, there is a stigma attached to service men and women who struggle with psychological health concerns, but not many people know that some of our own Presidents shared these struggles.

No one would ever expect the general who led the Union army to victory in the Civil War to have a debilitating fear of blood. But Ulysses S. Grant did, in fact, suffer from Hemophobia. It is estimated that nearly half of the presidents, between 1776 and 1974, experienced symptoms of mental illness at some point in their lives. Additionally, at least 25% of these presidents experienced these symptoms during their terms as president. Of those 37 presidents, 18 exhibited signs of mental health issues, the most common being depression, followed by anxiety and alcoholism. One president was even said to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“There’s limited empirical data and lots of speculation based on historical records,” said Mark Bates, Deployment Health Clinical Center Associate Director for Population Health.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said that around half of Americans experience a form of mental illness at some point in their lives, with a quarter of Americans reporting an illness in the past year.

On top of having a stressful job, most presidents with mental health issues also struggled with a personal trauma while in office, such as the loss of a close family member. Others suffered from health issues. Franklin Delano Roosevelt had polio and couldn’t stand independently, while John F. Kennedy took large quantities of painkillers to soothe back pain sustained while in the military.

Mental illness and tough times may have helped shape the personalities of some of these presidents. The upside to anxious people is that they are often hyper vigilant and compassionate. People with depression often have a realistic view of events.

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Military Connection: The Powerful Connection Between Mental Illness and Leadership: By Debbie Gregory