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Are you nuts?
They were great men, running great countries... oh, they were all nuts

Psychos, freaks, insane...! We were amazed when we found out that there have been political leaders in this world who have qualified on all three of the above accounts – no, we’re not referring to our dearest Members of Parliament. It’s more astounding when we realised after our (brilliant?) secondary research that some of these mentally unstable politicians actually ended up becoming the heads of countries!

Going by the example, the case of Richard Nixon comes first. Nixon was President of the United States from 1969 to 1974 and the first one in US history to resign from office (facing sure impeachment). The book, Richard Nixon: The Shaping of His Character, by Fawn M. Brodie – famous biographer and history teacher at the University of California – became the totem pole for understanding who the real Nixon was. Shockingly, the book reveals that Nixon was actually a sufferer of paranoia. For information, paranoia is most often linked with psychotic illnesses like schizophrenia – experts comment that in some cases (not necessarily in Nixon’s), the person believes he is on a special mission and has been chosen by God. To that effect, some of Nixon’s controversial policies do bear evidence of a traumatic childhood he had gone through.

A study done by a group of psychiatrists at the Duke University Medical Centre astoundingly reveals that 49% of former US presidents were afflicted by mental illnesses. The study published in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease further reveals that 18 out of the 37 presidents researched, were found to have suffered a mental illness of some form or the other. Ulysses S. Grant (general-in-chief of the Union Army during the Civil War and the then President of US) was also among them. The medical case of depression was the most prevalent disorder among presidents, occurring at a rate of 24 percent – ‘At least 10 presidents were affected by episodes while in office, and the study found evidence that symptoms interfered with their performance in almost all cases.’ Abraham Lincoln was one of the most famous of the sufferer lot – his seven losses (at various levels) before he finally became President big reasons for the same. Surprisingly, or perhaps not so surprisingly, George W. Bush is the most recent documented case of a president suffering from high levels of depression.
On the other hand, although Garry Will, author, journalist, historian specialising in policy and politics states in his book, Kennedy Imprisonment: Meditation on Power, how John F Kennedy’s “insatiable machismo” had dangerous foreign policy implications for his country as well as for the world, one cannot directly infer that Kennedy was suffering from any mental illness – the concept of ‘sexual addiction’ has still not been accepted notably as a disease of the mind.

In a book called Ronald Reagan: the politics of symbolism, the famous American historian specialising on biographies of American presidents, Robert Balleck, says that Reagan’s bitter experience in early childhood, due to his alcoholic father, had severe implication in his later life. As Balleck writes, “The episode(s) must have reinforced Reagan’s horror of being in a helpless condition, beholden to someone else for survival... Reagan lived in fear of his father’s uncontrolled behaviour and understandably places an exaggerated premium on self-mastery in his own life and in the life of the nation.” Although Reagan left office in 1989, in the year 1994, he announced to the public that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, an affliction that kills brain cells. Then CBS White House correspondent Lesley Stahl has commented that during an interview when Reagan was in office, “a vacant Reagan barely seemed to realize anyone else was in the room,” and that “I had come that close to reporting that Reagan was senile.” Reagan’s doctors refute this presumption that Reagan had developed the affliction in office.

By:- Sray Agarwal and Akram Hoque

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