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7 Famous Writers With Mental Disorders

Ltolstoyeo Tolstoy.

War and Peace and Anna Karenina are still considered masterpieces of Russian Literature. Tolstoy wrote a book exploring his own tendency toward depression called A Confession.

As he reached middle age, his depression seemed to worsen. He became overly concerned with his success, and started giving his personal possessions away. Later, he was critical of himself for not having the courage to commit suicide.

Ernest Hemmingway.

Hemmingway is known as a brilliant Nobel Prize winning author, (The Old Man and the Sea). He’s said to have suffered from depression, bipolar disorder, had borderline and narcissistic personality traits, and later suffered with psychosis.  Instead of approaching doctors for help, Hemmingway infamously self-medicated with alcohol.

His manic side was evidenced by some of his high-risk behaviors, such as in deep-sea fishing,  shooting animals in the wild, and dodging bullets as a war correspondent.  His family tree was populated with relatives suffering from depression, many of whom committed suicide.  He killed himself with a shotgun in 1961.

Philip K. Dick.

Dick is perhaps the most visionary sc-fi writer of the last century.  His works are the most adapted sci-fi classics in recent film history.  Movies like Blade Runner, The Minority Report and Total Recall are just three of dozens of ingenious stories adapted from novels and short stories he wrote.

As a teenager, Dick was plagued by vertigo.  As he grew, there were signs of schizophrenia, including eventually, visual and auditory hallucinations.  He was hospitalized, but somehow managed to keep writing. At one point he felt there was a beam of “pink light” being transmitted directly into his consciousness.

Frakafkanz Kafka.

Kafka wrote in a completely original style exploring existential ideas about life.  The Trial and Metamorphosis are two of his better known stories.  Kafka was a loner, a genius, who suffered from social anxiety and depression.  He worked in obscurity at an insurance company in Prague, where he noticed that life was bound by pointless bureaucracy.

It’s thought his depression came from having only a handful of his works published during his lifetime.  He also suffered from migraines, boils and insomnia brought on by the stress of working so hard at writing with so little to show for it.

Virginia Woolf.

Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse are two of Wolf’s best known works.  She was prone to nervous breakdowns in her twenties.  They were thought to be brought on by the trauma of sexual abuse from her childhood.

After she finished her last novel, Wolf became seriously depressed.  The loss of her home in London during World War II, contributed to her depression.  In 1941, she filled her pockets with stones and walked into a river near her home and drowned.

Sylvia Plath. 

Death was a recurrent theme in Plath’s poems.  Sometimes death meant “death and rebirth” to her, sometimes she wrote about “death as an end.”  Her poems have titles like Stillborn, and Two Views of a Cadaver Room.

Plath was known among her colleagues for significant mood swings, along with impulse control issues.  While still in college, she attempted suicide several times.  In 1963 she committed suicide by placing her head inside an oven.

Ezra Pound

T.S. Eliot wrote that  Pound was the poet most responsible for the twentieth century revolution in poetry.  Pound was a brilliant poet and an outspoken critic of US policy during World War II.  He was placed in a hospital for the criminally insane, after being arrested in 1945 for treason.

During his 13 year stay there, he was thought to be living with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. At another point in his life, he was also diagnosed with schizophrenia.



Writers work six months to a year to finish a novel, a book of poetry, or screenplay.  Sometimes longer. They may not see feedback for years.  During this time, a lot of anxiety grows about whether they are even writing something worthwhile, let alone of social or artistic merit.

In a recent study, professional writers were found to be 121% more likely to suffer from bipolar disorder than the general population.  Moreover, the same study found that authors had a “statistically significant increase” in anxiety disorders—38% to be exact. Rates of alcoholism, drug addiction, and suicide are also inordinately high among writers.


If you have questions about anxiety or other issues you’re experiencing as a writer or creative professional, for a free phone consult to discuss, just click here.


Image credit: Creative Commons, Leo Tolstoy in His Study, 2006 by Tschaff, licensed under CC By 2.0

 Image credit: Creative Commons, Franz Kafka, 2006 by Michael Allen Smith, licensed under CC By 2.0

7 Famous Writers With Mental Disorders

David Silverman, MA, LMFT

A lot of careers can really knock you around. The competition is fierce, in graphic design, journalism, you name it -- especially in creative careers in Hollywood. Writers and performers get slammed with rejection constantly. If you're going through something -- anxiety, addiction or depression -- I help people like you get through it. And thrive. Let me help you get your dream back on track.

Please check out my website: My story: my brother grew up with a severe case of OCD, and while I just a kid --- in family therapy with him, I witnessed a miracle as he was transformed, and now is enjoying the life he deserves. I went to Stanford University to study Psychology, and USC Film. I've worked in FIlm/TV and experienced high levels of anxiety, and got slammed with rejection myself. I learned how to get through it. Today, I love to help people to regain the lifestyle they deserve.

David Silverman Psychotherapy

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APA Reference
Silverman, D. (2016). 7 Famous Writers With Mental Disorders. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 22, 2020, from


Last updated: 23 Apr 2016
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