7 Famous Writers Who Lived with Mental Illness

Written by Hannah Blum, author of The Truth About Broken: The Unfixed Version of Self-Love

The ability to feel emotions so deeply was both a curse and gift to many of the greatest writers throughout history. They used writing to express themselves which is why their words still capture the minds and hearts of readers today. These are 7 famous writers who lived with mental illness.

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)

Ernest Hemingway was a charming American novelist who wrote best-sellers such as The Sun Also Rises and For Whom The Bell Tolls. In 1954 he won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Hemingway struggled with alcoholism and manic depression. Many people do not know the extent to which suicide and mental illness ran in his family. Hemingway’s father, Clarence, his sister and brother, Ursula and Leicester, all committed suicide. Hemingway received electroshock therapy many times, but this only provided short-term relief. His depression worsened as time went on and in 1961, he died by suicide. In 1996, decades after his death, his granddaughter, Margaux Hemingway, committed suicide as well. In 2013, his granddaughter Mariel Hemingway made a documentary called, “Running From Crazy,” which reveals the impact mental illness had on her family. She is a successful mental health advocate who works to help others affected by suicide.

The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places. -Ernest Hemingway


Charles Bukowski (1920-1944)

Charles Bukowski was a poet and writer who eloquently wrote about the hardships of life and the importance of staying true to yourself. He had a difficult childhood and struggled with manic depression. He channeled his emotional pain into his writing, and related to readers by revealing his experience with mental illness. At the age of 82, Bukowski died of Leukemia. His ability to creatively express his internal conflict is why he is my favorite writer. Bukowski’s words still resonate with people today.

Find what you love and let it kill you. -Charles Bukowski


Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)

Virginia Woolf was an English writer who published famous novels such as Mrs. Dalloway. She wrote essays about art theory, politics, and discrimination against women. Her approach to writing had a significant influence on literature, but Woolf struggled with manic depression which began to surface at the age of 13 following her mother’s death. Her success as a writer did not ease her mental pain. She looked at herself as a failure. In 1941, Woolf died by suicide after a long battle with manic depression. She remains one of the most brilliant writers of the 20th century, who spoke up about the oppression of women.

How many times have people used a pen or paintbrush because they couldn’t pull the trigger? -Virginia Woolf


Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)

Leo Tolstoy was a novelist who wrote classic works such as, War and Peace and Anna Karenina. In his memoir, A Confession, he writes about his struggle with depression and alcohol abuse. At one point Tolstoy seriously considered suicide which was found in a letter he wrote saying, “The possibility of killing himself has been given to man, and therefore he may kill himself.” However, he did not follow through and at the age of 82, he died of pneumonia.

All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love.  -Leo Tolstoy


Sylvia Plath (1932-1963)

Sylvia Plath is considered one of the most remarkable writers of the 20th century. She was one of the first poets to use a different genre known as Confessional Poetry, a style based on personal experience and feelings about trauma, death and the psyche. She had many successful books, including The Bell Jar, a fictional novel that parallels with Plath’s life dealing with manic depression. It was during her undergraduate years that she experienced symptoms of mental illness which lead to her first suicide attempt at age 19. Following her mental breakdown she received electroshock therapy, but her battle with depression continued. At the young age of 30, Plath died by suicide. She will always be remembered as a literary pioneer.

Let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences. -Sylvia Plath


F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)

F. Scott Fitzgerald was a successful writer who wrote classic books such as The Great Gatsby and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Fitzgerald suffered from severe depression, and was known to be a heavy drinker. His alcohol consumption contributed to his physical health declining. Fitzgerald’s wife, Zelda, also dealt with mental illness and was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1930. At the age of 44, Fitzgerald died of a heart attack. Almost 70 years after Fitzgerald’s death, The Great Gatsby and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button were made into movies. Each film grossed over 330 million dollars worldwide which shows the impact of Fitzgerald’s work.

You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say. -F. Scott Fitzgerald


Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

Charles Dickens was an English writer with famous books such as A Christmas Carol and one of my favorites, Great Expectations. Dickens lived with depression and insomnia. During these sleepless periods of time, he would walk the streets of London and found inspiration for characters portrayed in his novels. Dickens was wealthy and successful, but the lack of sleep and severe depression affected his ability to write. In 1870 Dickens died of a stroke. He is considered one of the most influential writers in history and his novels still remain popular today.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. -Charles Dickens

For more quotes and poetry follow @hannahdblum

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