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Presidential depression and Abraham Lincoln’s struggle with ‘melancholy’: What historians know

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Presidential depression and Abraham Lincoln’s struggle with ‘melancholy’: What historians know

He is perhaps best known for his honesty — but a lesser-known fact about Abraham Lincoln is that the 16th president of the United States battled severe depression during his lifetime.

Dr. Chris Tuell, a clinical psychotherapist and a chemical and behavioral addiction specialist at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, has studied Lincoln’s mental health struggles extensively.

“Though the history books play a significant role in our perception and understanding of the ‘rail splitter’ from Illinois, it often becomes easy for us to forget that Abraham Lincoln was very human,” Tuell told Fox News Digital.

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“Lincoln led this nation through its worst crisis, while at the same time battling his own internal war of chronic depression.”

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Here’s what to know. 

Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of the United States, is depicted in this painting at the Gettysburg Address. (Painting by J.L.G. Ferris)

Signs of Lincoln’s depression

At age 32, in a letter to John Stuart in 1841, 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 earth. Whether I shall ever be better, I cannot tell; I awfully forebode I shall not; to remain as I am is impossible.” 

Lincoln scholars have “clear evidence” that he suffered from depressive episodes beginning in his 20s, Tuell noted.

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“Lincoln’s school teacher, Mentor Graham, stated, ‘Lincoln told me that he felt like committing suicide often,’” Tuell said.  

“Law partner and biographer William Herndon stated, ‘He was a sad-looking man, gloomy and melancholic. His melancholy dripped from him as he walked.’”

Contributing factors to Lincoln’s depression

The president’s mental health condition can be attributed to both genetics and traumatic experiences, according to the book “Lincoln’s Melancholy” by Joshua Wolf Shenk.

Lincoln is said to have had a family history of depression.

Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of the U.S., battled severe depression. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs)

“Historical records indicate that Lincoln’s mother and father were disposed to melancholy and that one side of the family ‘was thick with mental disease,’” said Tuell. 

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“Bereavement in childhood can be one of the most significant factors in the development of depressive illness in later life.”

As a child, Lincoln lost several close family members. 

After his brother died in infancy, Lincoln’s mother, aunt and uncle all died when he was just 9 years old. A decade later, his sister died while delivering a stillborn infant.

Later, Lincoln experienced the loss of his first love, Ann Rutledge, in 1835. 

As a father, he experienced the death of two young sons, Eddie and Willie. 

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“According to mental health professionals, bereavement in childhood can be one of the most significant factors in the development of depressive illness in later life,” Tuell said. 

Dr. Marc Siegel, clinical professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center and a Fox News medical contributor, said that Lincoln’s melancholy may have been tied to his “intellectual prowess and [his tendency to] see and feel things deeply.”

How Lincoln dealt with depression

Before the age of psychotherapy and antidepressant medications, Lincoln learned to live with his depressive disposition, Tuell said. 

“He would frequently use humor and storytelling to elevate his mood and distract himself from his depression,” the psychologist told Fox News Digital.  

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Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln is depicted at the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, which gave enslaved people their freedom.  (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

“Only his closest friends had any insight concerning the extent of his condition.”

In a time period when mental health treatment was not available, Tuell noted that learning how to manage his life with his depression was Lincoln’s only choice.  

“The only other option would have been for him to succumb to these adversities,” he said. 

“He managed to overcome it and the Civil War to become our greatest president, by most people’s estimation.”

“It does not appear that it was in the 16th president’s persona to acquiesce. Lincoln persevered and served this country eloquently.”

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Siegel noted that in Lincoln’s time, depression was referred to as “melancholy” and was typically treated with opium, a highly addictive narcotic drug that is extracted from the poppy plant.

Abe Lincoln

“It does not appear that it was in the 16th president’s persona to acquiesce,” a psychologist said. “Lincoln persevered and served this country eloquently.” (AP)

Historians have noted that Lincoln’s sons brought him periods of happiness despite his ongoing depression.

“We are so used to seeing Abraham Lincoln looking depressed and sad, that we forget — and the historical record is clear on this — he would break down in laughter when playing with his boys or observing the mayhem they created,” Raymond Arroyo, a Fox News contributor and bestselling author, previously told Fox News Digital. 

He is the author of the book, “The Magnificent Mischief of Tad Lincoln,” part of his Turnabout Tales series of books. 

What to know about depression

Depressive disorders affect approximately 18.8 million American adults or about 9.5% of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. 

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There are different types of depressive disorders, according to Tuell.

These may include major depression, dysthymia (an ongoing, low-grade depression) and bipolar (mood swings of depression and mania).

Sad woman

Depressive disorders affect approximately 18.8 million American adults or about 9.5% of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.  (iStock)

“Depression can affect every aspect of one’s life — physical health, sleep [habits], eating habits, job and your relationships with friends and family,” said Tuell. “It affects thoughts, feelings and behaviors.”

While depression is one of the most serious mental health issues facing people today, Tuell noted that it’s also one of the most treatable.

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Lincoln’s perseverance in the face of severe depression was something to be admired, Tuell and Siegel agreed.

“We can only speculate what Lincoln would say or do about our current state of political affairs, or even what thoughts he may have toward the new millennium’s understanding of depression and mental health,” Tuell said.  

Lincoln and generals at Antietam

President Abraham Lincoln with General George B. McClellan at his headquarters at Antietam, Oct. 3, 1862. From left: General George W. Morell, Colonel Alexander S. Webb, General McClellan, scout Adams, Dr. Jonathan Letterman, unidentified officer, President Lincoln, Colonel Henry Hunt, General Fitz, John Porter, unidentified officer. (Getty Images)

“But now, some 159 years later, Lincoln’s historical persona continues to belong to the ages.”  

Lincoln believed in the human spirit and spoke of the role people must have toward one another, Tuell noted. 

“This was no more clearly expressed than through Lincoln’s own words, ‘With malice toward none; with charity for all,’” he said.

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Lincoln’s battle with depression can be regarded as an “inspiration to all who suffer from this dreaded disease or feel stigmatized by it,” Siegel added.

“He managed to overcome it and the Civil War to become our greatest president, by most people’s estimation.”

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DeForest Kelley: Remembering the True Heart of 'Star Trek'

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Untreated sleep apnea presents 'disruptive' dangers to people's lives, including heart issues, says expert

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Untreated sleep apnea presents 'disruptive' dangers to people's lives, including heart issues, says expert

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Esther Rodriguez Villegas, a professor at Imperial College London and founder of the London-based medical technology company Acurable, is sharing common health and well-being issues that can result from sleep apnea — a problem that can be disruptive for both sufferers as well as their loved ones.

One of these risks is cardiovascular disease. The sudden and frequent drops in blood oxygen caused by sleep apnea can “put a strain on the cardiovascular system and cause increased blood pressure,” Villegas told Fox News Digital in an interview.

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“If symptoms persist over a long period of time, this increases the chances of serious cardiovascular problems, such as heart attacks, strokes or abdominal aortic aneurysms, to name a few,” she said.

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The “potentially serious” sleep disorder known as sleep apnea causes breathing to stop and start repeatedly during sleep, according to Mayo Clinic’s definition.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is one type of sleep apnea that occurs when “throat muscles relax and block the flow of air to the lungs,” Mayo Clinic explained on its website.

Sleep apnea can be a “potentially serious” sleep disorder, according to Mayo Clinic. (iStock)

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Central sleep apnea (CSA) happens when the brain fails to send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing.

And yet, while sleep apnea can affect anyone, certain factors such as excessive weight and thicker neck circumference, which can cause narrower airways, can increase the risk, according to Mayo Clinic. 

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Older men are at a higher risk of sleep apnea, as well as those who consume alcohol, smoke or use sedatives or tranquilizers.

Increasing evidence suggests that the drops in oxygen are linked to years of reduction in life expectancy, the doctor noted.

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man sleeping in cpap mask

The most common treatment for sleep apnea is the use of a CPAP machine that is worn as a mask. (iStock)

Diabetes can be another outcome of sleep apnea, as patients with type 2 diabetes have a “very high” prevalence of OSA, according to Villegas.

“Unfortunately, most don’t know they have obstructive sleep apnea, while recent evidence has demonstrated that untreated disease leads to significantly worse glycemic control — in other words, worse progression of their diabetes,” she said.

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Since sleep apnea “severely disrupts rest at night,” Villegas warned that the condition can impair energy and concentration levels during the day.

This can result in an increased risk of car accidents, according to the expert.

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man tired at work

School or work performance can be at risk due to lack of daytime energy in sleep apnea sufferers, an expert said. (iStock)

“The statistics vary, but it is thought that in Europe, for example, untreated sleep apnea is the second leading cause of car accidents,” she said.

This lack of energy can also affect school or work performance, which can lead to disciplinary issues or accidents.

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“Children with sleep apnea are often found to underperform at school and are sometimes misdiagnosed with ADHD,” said Villegas.

“They are often labeled as aggressive or having behavioral issues, when in fact it is the result of untreated sleep apnea.”

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little boy yawns in bed

Children are often misdiagnosed with ADHD due to “behavioral issues” caused by lack of sleep, an expert said. (iStock)

People with sleep apnea are also more likely to experience mental health issues, Villegas added, such as low mood, irritability, anxiety and depression.

Recognizing sleep apnea

A frequent symptom of sleep apnea is loud snoring, which is usually a clear warning sign for partners or family members in the home.

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But there are some hidden sleep apnea symptoms that could be overlooked, Villegas warned.

These can include waking up frequently at night; waking in the morning with a headache, dry mouth, or sore throat; or feeling fatigued, irritable or in a bad mood during the day.

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man snores in bed next to woman

Loud snoring is a frequent symptom of sleep apnea, but there are other less obvious symptoms that can be overlooked. (iStock)

Other sneaky symptoms of sleep apnea can include night sweats and erectile dysfunction, Villegas said.

Sleep apnea in children can show up as bad behavior, struggles at school, or sleeping in unusual positions, like with their neck extended.

Treating the condition

The most common treatment for sleep apnea is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which Villegas described as a “mask worn overnight that pushes pressurized air into the windpipe to keep it open while sleeping.”

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Alternative treatments include a variety of mandibular advancement devices (MADs), which hold the tongue and jaw in the correct position to prevent airway blockages.

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woman holds cpap machine

While CPAP machines are a common treatment, making lifestyle changes can also improve or eliminate symptoms of sleep apnea, one expert said. (iStock)

Nose, throat and mouth surgery could also help correct these blockages, Villegas said, while tonsillectomies are common in children.

In many cases, lifestyle changes such as weight loss, reducing alcohol intake and quitting smoking can improve or eliminate symptoms entirely, Villegas said.

Approximately 30 million people have sleep apnea in the U.S. — yet only six million are officially diagnosed, according to the American Medical Association.

For those who believe they may have sleep apnea, Mayo Clinic recommends seeking out a health care provider for examination and treatment.

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MDs: Here's How to Outsmart Sneaky Weight-Loss Side Effects So You Feel Better Than Ever

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