Did Martin Luther King have a Bipolar Disorder? Did It Contribute to His Greatness?

The online journal Medscape Psychiatry published on 10-26-15 “Martin Luther King’s Manic-Depressive Illness: a Source of His Greatness and Despair.” This interesting, and highly compassionate towards Dr. King, article reviews his history of mental health episodes, going all the way back to his teenage years, is ongoing need for only 4 to 5 hours of sleep per night, bouts of intense despair and depression not necessarily correlated with psychosocial stressors, and periods of intense activity, productivity, and creativity-all indicative of a likely relatively mild variant of a bipolar disorder.

The author discusses how Dr. King’s exceptional energy level and intensity undoubtedly contributed to his greatness-but also his pessimism and despair may have contributed to the belief that he was doomed and resulted in him exposing himself to unnecessary risk. Some of Dr. King’s closest advisers recommended that he get psychiatric care, but he refused, with the support of other advisors. The author concludes:

…It is the discrimination against psychiatric disease that influences many persons in our culture to refuse to accept the idea that someone as great as Dr King could have had depression or even manic depression. Dr King himself, and his advisers, appear to have shared those attitudes.

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