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Medical Clinical depression in a US president

  1. Jul 19, 2011 #1
    When former US president Calvin Coolidge died in 1933, columnist Dorothea Dix asked, "How can they tell?" Coolidge was widely viewed as having "slept" through most of his presidency (1923-29). It is now generally recognized that Coolidge suffered from clinical depression which dated from the death of his 16 year old son in 1924.


    Today depression is recognized as a treatable medical condition. But I wonder if the public would be informed if a US president was in fact receiving treatment for depression. It's a very demanding job which can take its toll on any otherwise fit person, even without a personal tragedy.
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  3. Jul 19, 2011 #2

    Andy Resnick

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    One should be careful of "post diagnosing" someone, but it appears clear that many US Presidents have had medical conditions concealed from the public. FDR had polio, JFK had Addison's, etc. etc.
  4. Jul 19, 2011 #3
    Yes, one should be careful about this. Sigmund Freud made a hobby of psychoanalyzing US President Woodrow Wilson, most of it discredited. Freud never met Wilson. However, the long list of symptoms presented in the article is strongly suggestive of clinical depression. Had Coolidge not been so afflicted, he might have taken steps to reign in the excesses that led to the stock market crash of 1929. That he was capable of foresight and leadership was evident in the early days of his administration, before his son's death.

    The disabilities of FDR, Kennedy and other presidents didn't seem to have such a drastic effect on their performance, except for Franklin Pierce, one of the more obscure US presidents (1853-1857).
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2011
  5. Jul 19, 2011 #4

    Andy Resnick

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    You are raising an interesting question- do public figures have any right to privacy? Tax returns are already (voluntarily, AFAIK) proffered to the press- should medical records also become public domain?

  6. Jul 19, 2011 #5
    Your link appears to require a password.

    IMO, presidential candidates should make their medical records known. In any case, someone usually manages to find problems if any exist. In 1972, the Democratic candidate George McGovern's first choice for Vice President (Tom Eagleton) was found to have been treated for depression 20 years before. McGovern had to drop him from the ticket due to pressure from his own party. Once they're in office however, I don't see how it helps. We generally know when the president gets a physical. However, if anything unexpected is found, I'm not sure we would hear about it unless a hospitalization were required. As far as prescription medications, I don't think we would hear about it unless the president allowed it or there was a "leak". I do think the president has most of the same rights as ordinary citizens. However, when they're are running for office, we have a right to ask.
  7. Jul 19, 2011 #6

    Andy Resnick

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    Sorry- here's the abstract etc.:

    DALLEK, R. (2010), Presidential Fitness and Presidential Lies: The Historical Record and a Proposal for Reform. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 40: 9–22. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-5705.2009.03751.x

    Since at least the late nineteenth century, U.S. presidents have engaged in substantial and unjustified deception in a variety of domains, and future presidents will continue to do so unless new mechanisms are created to ensure greater accountability and oversight. The problem is particularly apparent in two very different domains: personal health and foreign policy. Several presidents and presidential candidates have concealed grave health conditions that impaired their ability to govern. As future presidential candidates are unlikely to be more forthcoming about their health, the public interest should be protected by an independent medical panel to evaluate presidential candidates. In foreign policy, recent decades have seen several egregious cases of presidential deception, including Lyndon B. Johnson on Vietnam, Richard M. Nixon on the Chilean coup, and George W. Bush on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Such ethical lapses justify a constitutional recall amendment, under which a congressional supermajority could subject the continued service of a sitting president to a popular vote.
  8. Jul 19, 2011 #7
    Well, I think we need to stick to the medical issues since we are in that forum. The fact is none of these precautions would have helped in the Coolidge example. Clinical depression wasn't even a recognized medical issue at that time. "Silent" Cal had a right to be sad after losing his younger son. Later, the taciturn disengaged president was just accepted for whom the public thought we was. The US and most of the world was at peace and the economy was booming. The last thing many people wanted was an activist president.

    On the other hand, the public knew almost nothing about the condition of Woodrow Wilson who suffered a stroke in 1919. His wife and a few cabinet officials ran the country for at least six months, telling the press and Congress that the President was running the country from his bed, when in fact he was incapable of doing so.

    The 25th Amendment. which was only ratified in 1967, currently provides for the Vice President to assume the duties of the President in the case of presidential disability.

    http://millercenter.org/president/wilson/essays/firstlady [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
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