1937: Gollum

September 21, 1937 – This may count as the official birth date of a well-known mentally disturbed fictional character: Gollum. For on this day in 1937, J.R.R. Tolkien published his story The Hobbit that introduced Gollum to the world.

I assume you’ve read the Lord of the Rings series, or at least have seen Gollum in the films. Underneath all his wicked, obsessed, monomaniacal deviousness he is one of the saddest, most piteous and forlorn figures in fantasy.

Gollum

Many websites routinely classify him as “mentally ill”. To give a random example, the Urban Times site puts him in a list of 33 Fantastic Films Whose Main Characters Have Mental Disorders.

But when it comes to what exactly was wrong with Gollum most people remain a bit vague, guessing around. Schizophrenia? Or maybe a split personality, torn between his original Sméagol roots and his later Gollum identity?

Diagnosis

Actually we do know exactly what was wrong with him! In 2004, the British Medical Journal (see footnote) published an article with Gollum’s diagnosis.

It was the result of a student research project at University College London. Supervised by their psychiatry lecturer, six medical students carefully analyzed Gollum’s known past and behavior, considering all possible explanations.

Gollum

Based on how Tolkien had recorded Gollum’s life history, moods and conduct, they concluded that (with his solitary habits, his nervousness and his paranoia) Gollum looked like a typical case of schizoid personality disorder.

SPD is not the same as schizophrenia: this is a more rare disorder. And it has nothing to do with multiple personalities either.

Schizoid Personality Disorder

According to the WHO’s official ICD-10 classification list, SPD is characterized by at least four of the following criteria:

  1. Emotional coldness, detachment or reduced affect.
  2. Limited capacity to express either positive or negative emotions towards others.
  3. Consistent preference for solitary activities.
  4. Very few, if any, close friends or relationships, and a lack of desire for such.
  5. Indifference to either praise or criticism.
  6. Little interest in having sexual experiences with another person (taking age into account).
  7. Taking pleasure in few, if any, activities.
  8. Indifference to social norms and conventions.
  9. Preoccupation with fantasy and introspection.

Based on these criteria, the students in their article came to the following end conclusion (emphasis added by me):

 
“Gollum displays pervasive maladaptive behaviour that has been present since childhood with a persistent disease course. His odd interest and spiteful behaviour have led to difficulty in forming friendships and distress to others. He fulfills seven of the nine criteria for schizoid personality disorder, and if we must label Gollum’s problems we believe that this is the most likely diagnosis.”
 

So we can consider this historical-literary-cinematic-fantasy-psychiatric riddle solved: the Gollum character suffered from SPD.

Gollum's end

In Tolkien’s mythical Middle-Earth universe, poor Gollum never got any therapy. Maybe wise sorcerer Gandalf might eventually have been able to act as a kind of psychiatrist for him, but it was not to be. Instead, Gollum came to a horrible end by falling (together with the Ring) into a pit of red-hot boiling lava.

Question

I’ve got just one other question here, a slightly more serious one that no one ever thought of in all those funny online posts about Gollum and his mental condition.

Just suppose I happened to have actually been diagnosed with some level of SPD, of schizoid personality disorder myself.

In that situation, would I be happy to be associated with the figure of Gollum as a kind of personification of my disorder? Would I be fine with an image of Gollum as a caricatural, but perhaps also typical representation of my own problems?

In short, wouldn’t I be afraid to be seen by others as some milder kind of Gollum myself?

I’m sure I would not like this at all.

Music

Here is the Gollum Song from the soundtrack of The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers (2002). Music composed by Howard Shore, lyrics written by Fran Walsh, performed by Icelandic singer Emiliana Torrini:

 
Emiliana Torrini – Gollum’s Song

Where once was light
Now darkness falls
Where once was love
Love is no more
 
Don’t say goodbye
Don’t say I didn’t try
 
These tears we cry
Are falling rain
For all the lies
You told us
The hurt, the blame
 
And we will weep
To be so alone
We are lost
We can never go home
 
So in the end
I will be what I will be
No loyal friend
Was ever there for me
 
Now we say goodbye
We say you didn’t try
 
These tears you cry
Have come too late
Take back the lies
The hurt, the blame
 
And you will weep
When you face the end alone
You are lost
You can never go home
 
You are lost
You can never go home

Footnotes:

  • For the Gollum article from the British Medical Journal (BMJ, December 2004) see the PMC site, the medical journal archive of the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s Library of Medicine: A precious case from Middle Earth, by Elizabeth L. Sampson (lecturer in old age psychiatry) and six of her students.
  • In the finale of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings Gollum’s way of death was not a suicide. But I cannot help thinking here of an actual suicide too. See my post about Kiyoko Matsumoto, a Japanese student who in 1933 killed herself dramatically by jumping from a volcanic crater’s edge straight into the hot lava.

 


1997: Nick Traina

September 20, 1997 – This day, American punk rocker Nick Traina (19) killed himself with an intentional heroin overdose.

Nick Traina

Traina suffered from serious bipolar disorder. During his short life he had already been hospitalized several times for his illness; he had survived two previous suicide attempts.

Two months before his suicide he had left the San Francisco punk and ska band Link 80. He had been in this group since he was 16, and in many of their songs he was the lead singer.

Mother and Son

Nick Traina’s death got extra attention because his mother was the very popular, bestselling novelist Danielle Steel. Born from Steel’s failed marriage with heroin addict William Toth, Nick had been adopted by her next husband John Traina.

After her son’s suicide, Steel wrote a book to describe how he had struggled with his depressions (and the related drug abuse). In the book she used some quotes from Nick’s own diary to show how desperate and lost he must have felt:

 
“Normal is bad, balance is shit, I want to be angry and fierce and shirtless and sweating, screaming at the top of my lungs and clawing on my own skin for the rest of my life. I want to roll on the dirty carpet, the air raid sirens exploding above me, ripping the air to shreds, I want to be hungry and alone, hating the world, hating my parents, hating myself. I don’t want to have to call anybody on a phone, and have to pretend to be happy, have to pretend to be everything I am not. I can’t handle all of it anymore.”
 

Nick Traina with Danielle SteelNick Traina with his mother, Danielle Steel

In her book Steel also told how she had tried to maintain a good mother-and-son relationship with Nick, and how she had tried to help him cope with his mental illness. But even the most professional diagnoses and therapies turned out to fall short, and in the end – despite her great involvement and her ample resources – she was tragically unable to save him.

She left these words on his grave:

Nick Traina grave inscription

There are a few words in French here (for a part of Nick’s childhood years, the family had lived in France). That line means: “not goodbye, but simply see-you-again”.

Music

To give you an idea of Nick Traina’s music, here is Link 80 (yes, screaming at the top of their lungs…) with the song Enough from their 1997 album 17 Reasons:

 
Link 80 – Enough

Footnotes:

  • Link 80 disbanded about 2002, five years after Nick Traina’s death. Officially they still have a website, linkeighty.com. But when I checked it (September 2014) it had nothing but the message: “sshhhh….link eighty is sleeping.”
  • Danielle Steel, His Bright LightHere is a link to the Amazon page for Danielle Steel’s book about her son’s mental illness and how she as a mother was unable to help him. His Bright Light: The Story of My Son, Nick Traina.
  • Nick Traina’s grave monument is an elaborate one, with several inscriptions. The Find a Grave site has more photos: Find-a-Grave: Nicholas John Steel “Nick” Traina.
  • After her son’s death, Danielle Steel founded an organization that will support all kinds of activities in the field of treating mental illness treatment and preventing suicide, especially among young people: the Nick Traina Foundation.

 


1851: Wiltshire County Asylum

September 19, 1851 – Opening of the Wiltshire County Asylum in Devizes, in South West England. Yet another of those large Victorian asylums that were built all over Britain. They were meant to offer the mentally ill, many of whom were hard to cure back then, a somewhat better place to live (and to get them out of harm’s way).

Wiltshire County Asylum1849 design drawing of the asylum,
architect: Thomas Henry Wyatt (1807-1880)

The asylum, which later would be called Roundway Hospital, grew rapidly. The building had to be expanded several times. It had 250 patients when it opened; 1000 in 1910; and over 1500 at its peak in 1943.

Since the 1930s, this mental hospital experimented with virtually all the then-known forms of therapy – including the more notorious, dangerous ones. They introduced malaria-induced “fever therapy” in 1938; began using electroshocks in 1942; performed prefrontal brain surgery (better known as lobotomy) since 1946; and they briefly tried insulin-induced “coma therapy” about 1950.

Most of such nasty therapies became superfluous when the first modern anti-depressant and tranquilizing medication (such as chlorpromazine, known in the US as Thorazine) appeared on the scene.

In this hospital, such more effective medication was introduced between 1956-1959. After that, the number of patients soon began to dwindle. In 1990 there were only 270 patients left.

Wiltshire County AsylumThe old asylum’s main building today

In 1995 the last remaining patients were moved to another location. Today, the old main building from 1851 serves as an apartment complex.

Eric Walrond

A noteworthy and perhaps unexpected patient in this Wiltshire mental hospital was Afro-Caribbean writer Eric Walrond (1898-1966), who in the 1920s had played an important role in the Harlem Renaissance cultural movement in New York. He was especially known for his 1926 Tropic Death stories, full of poetic impressionist language and slang talk.

Eric WalrondIn 1929 Walrond had moved to England. He suffered from chronic depression; he described himself in a 1940 letter as a “depression casualty”.

From 1952 to 1957 he lived as a “voluntary patient” in this asylum, then known as the Roundway Hospital. During his stay here he helped start and edit a hospital magazine, Roundway Review.

When in 1966 he died, collapsing on a street in a London, he had become an impoverished and nearly forgotten figure. Recently however people are rediscovering him as an important pioneer of African-American literature. Or maybe I should say Caribbean-American literature.

A 2011 edition of his later writings, In Search of Asylum, has several stories that he wrote as a patient here in this Wiltshire mental hospital.

Footnotes:

  • The Devizes Heritage site has some more information about this asylum, plus a photo gallery with several old pictures: Wiltshire County Asylum for Insane – Roundway Hospital.
  • There also is a book (from 2000, now sold out) about the asylum’s history: Down Pans Lane: The History of Roundway Hospital, Devizes: 1851-1995, by Philip Frank Steele.Eric Walrond book As I write this, Amazon-UK offers one single second-hand copy for the ridiculous collector price of £280.00 – so don’t blame me for not having read it.
  • The book with Eric Walrond stories (cover picture here) is much easier to get. It was published in 2011; here is an Amazon link. In Search of Asylum: The Later Writings of Eric Walrond, edited by Louis J. Parascandola and Carl A. Wade, with a foreword by Joan Stewart.

 


1973: Two Psychiatrist Stamps

September 17, 1973 – Are you old enough to remember postage stamps? From before email? From the time of fountain pens and envelopes?

Famous people often ended up with their face adorning a stamp. Famous psychiatrists were no exception: sometimes a psychiatrist was honored with a stamp.

Now on this wonderful day in 1973 the government of the Caribbean island of Grenada – which of course you love as the place where much of our nutmeg comes from – issued a series of stamps to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the start of the World Health Organization.

The series featured six great men from the history of medicine. Sorry, no woman among them. Two of the stamps showed a psychiatrist: Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and his younger rival Carl Jung (1875-1961).

The Eye of the Beholder

To be honest, I myself do rank these Grenada stamps among the ugliest psychiatrist stamps I’ve ever encountered. With their flowery adornments they almost look like votive pictures for those true devotees who want to revere Saint Freud (the bearded one) and Saint Jung:

Freud and Jung stamps

Yes I know, style and beauty and likeness and simplicity remain a matter of personal taste. And of course you had always suspected that Jung was blessed with a much, much bigger head than Freud. But I’ve got yet another gripe here.

Pricing

Being something of a neo-Freudian myself, I’m not really happy about the prices.

For one precious Jung (35 cent) people could buy almost twelve cheap Freuds (3 cent). Did the Grenadian authorities really think Jung was worth twelve times as much as Freud?

OK, now that I think about it, maybe its low price also helped to make the Freud stamp the most popular of the two. So maybe the whole thing was not too bad after all…   ;-) 

 


2002: Dr. Phil

September 16, 2002 – Debut of the still-popular American TV show Dr. Phil, with psychologist Phil McGraw (52 at the time) claiming to give practical no-nonsense psychological advice about all kinds of daily life problems.

McGraw had learned how to play the public as a sidekick in the Oprah Winfrey Show in the years before. With his own show, he soon made millions every year (about $80 million in the year 2009, according to Wikipedia).

Dr. Phil

His television popularity led to several spin-offs and side activities, both successful (in the form of several bestselling self-help books) and less successful (a flunked line of weight loss products).

Although McGraw started his career as a clinical psychologist he didn’t actually work in that capacity since the early 1990s. He kept his professional license dormant for a long time but “retired” it in 2006.

How He Sees Himself

Here is a quote from his official Dr. Phil website. He certainly does not suffer from modesty:

 
“Dr. Phil McGraw, perhaps the most well-known mental health professional in the world, is the host of the leader in daytime talk, Dr. Phil. Launched in 2002, Dr. Phil provides the most comprehensive forum on mental health issues in the history of television. For 12 years, Dr. McGraw has used the Dr. Phil platform to make psychology accessible and understandable to the general public by addressing important personal and social issues. Using his top-rated show as a teaching tool, he takes aim at the critical issues of our time, including the “silent epidemics” of bullying, drug abuse, domestic violence, depression, child abuse, suicide and various forms of severe mental illness.”
 
“Dr. McGraw uses the power of television to tell compelling stories about real people with a wide range of emotional and behavioral problems, stripping away the shame and embarrassment that often keep people from seeking help. Many viewers, for the first time in their lives, develop an understanding of problems experienced by their families and themselves and, in the comfort of their homes, experience the hope and possibility of change. With a strong commitment to research, and the assistance of leading scholars and behavioral scientists, Dr. McGraw educates viewers about state-of-the-art and evidence-based treatment options for many of the most challenging problems faced by individuals, couples and families. His unique dedication to families and children is legend to the millions of people around the world who watch his show and read his books.”
 

How I See Him

There is just one reason why I wanted to give this self-proclaimed “perhaps most well-known mental health professional in the world” a well-deserved mention here at my History of Mental Health site.

I think the 2002 introduction of his TV show was a historic milestone indeed – one of the awful kind. In my opinion it marked a new low in the way a TV personality (using psychology as a pretext) achieved popularity by publicly exploiting the insecurity of vulnerable individuals.

In Dr. Phil’s simplistic, sensation-seeking performances I see just as much professional psychological depth and nuance as I can see juice in a balloon.

Yes, this man gives me the creeps. Please allow me to leave it at this.

 


1866: Adolf Meyer

September 13, 1866 – Birth date of Swiss-born psychiatrist Adolf Meyer, who between about 1900-1940 was an important figure in American psychiatry.

Adolf Meyer

After his training as a psychiatrist and neuropathologist in Switzerland, he had emigrated to the USA in 1892 (when he was 26). As the director of mental health clinics and as professor of psychiatry at Cornell (1904-1909) and Johns Hopkins University (1910-1941) he would have a huge influence on the training of a whole generation of psychiatrists. In 1927-1928 he was president of the APA (American Psychiatric Association).

Mental Condition as Part of a Whole

Although Meyer was more an empirical scientist than a Freudian psychiatrist, he combined a few Freudian concepts (the importance of childhood experiences and of sexuality) with very different elements from others.

Adolf Meyer Medallion

His central notion was what he called “psychobiology”. By this he meant that when diagnosing and treating psychiatric patients, one should look at all the physical, psychological, and social factors in the patient’s life: not just one of those aspects.

In practice this implied that according to him, therapists should not just observe a patient’s present mental symptoms. They should very carefully register her-or-his complete life history before starting therapy. So where possible, a therapist should always begin with an extensive patient interview.

In the second place, therapists should keep looking at the patient’s daily social environment and habits. They should always ask themselves if the patient should be helped to cope better with specific daily life challenges, as in the long run this might improve her-or-his mental health.

These principles may seem fairly self-evident today, but Meyer did a lot to propagate them.

He died in 1950 (nine years after retiring) at the age of 83.

Footnotes:

  • The bronze Adolf Meyer medallion (photo by an eBay seller) is one of a set of “Pathfinders in Psychiatry” collector medallions.
    It was commissioned in 1980 by the pharmaceutical company Abbott Laboratories, and is one in the APA Coin Collection (of the other APA, American Psychological Association) that comprises hundreds of such medallions.
    The backside of this Adolf Meyer medallion describes him with the text: “Neurologist, writer, teacher, creator of dynamic psychology, the father of American Psychobiology.
  • No, I’m afraid it’s not likely that we will ever see such a medallion showing your face or mine. But no doubt, Meyer himself would have explained to us that this doesn’t mean that our life is a failure   ;-) 
  • Just a few days ago I posted about the Illinois Eastern Hospital for the Insane at Kankakee, opened in 1879.
    This asylum happens to have been one of the very first places where young Meyer got a job after his 1892 arrival in the USA: between 1893-1895 he worked there as a pathologist.

 


1991: Ernst Herbeck

September 11, 1991 – Schizophrenia patient and poet Ernst Herbeck (70) dies in the Austrian state mental hospital at Maria Gugging, near Vienna, that had been his home for over 45 years.

Ernst Herbeck

Herbeck was born in 1920 with a cleft palate that needed to be operated on several times during his life; speaking was not easy for him.

During World War II, when he had to serve briefly in the German army, he developed mental problems: he often felt possessed by alien forces invading his body and mind. In 1945 he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. When treatments such as shock therapy proved unsuccessful, he had to remain in the mental hospital permanently.

Self-expression

In 1960 the clinic’s psychiatrist, Leo Navratil (1921-2006) offered Herbeck a new way to express himself. He asked him to write down something about the word “morning”. Herbeck responded by writing a few poetic, associative lines. In translation:

 
Morning
 
In fall the wind-of-fairies
       align
as in the snow the
manes beat.
Blackbirds whistle afield
in the wind and eat.
 

Impressed and intrigued by this result, Navratil kept stimulating his patient to write. Over the years Herbeck wrote about 1,200 poems, all in a therapeutic setting, and only after Navratil had cued him with a specific word (such as an animal, a color, a body part) that should be the poem’s subject.

Herbeck became famous when in 1966 his psychiatrist published 83 of these poems in a book about schizophrenia and language (see footnote below). Since 1977 several collections of Herbeck’s work were published (in German) and he became quite popular, even appearing on Austrian TV.

Translation

In 2012 a striking selection of Herbeck’s poems was published in English by Ugly Duckling Presse: Everyone Has a Mouth. The poems were admirably translated by Gary Sullivan and Oya Ataman – no easy task, given Herbecks peculiar language with frequent use of non-existent words.

Everyone Has a Mouth

The book’s title came from The Mouth, one of the few instances where Herbeck in fact wrote more specifically about himself:

 
The Mouth
 
Not everyone has a mouth
some mouth is disqualified
or operated on. So it is with me
the doctor says everyone has
a mouth. the mouth is
especially for eating. The mouth
consists of the upper lip and the
lower lip, the phroat and the
flapper. Of the teeth in the upper jaw
and also in the lower jaw. Half of the
nose also belongs to the mouth. As well as
both of the earflaps and the index fin-
ger when one has stuck it into the mouth one
has.
 

It looks like the printed edition of these translated Herbeck poems has already sold out, but you can read the complete book online at the Ugly Duckling Presse website: Everyone Has a Mouth.

Footnotes:

  • The Landeskrankenhaus für Psychiatrie und Neurologie (the mental hospital at Maria Gugging where Herbeck lived for so many years) had been founded in 1885. It was closed down in 2007.
    At the site of the former hospital is now an art museum, the Museum Gugging. It has a large collection of artwork by psychiatric patients, including drawings by Ernst Herbeck.
  • Also worth viewing: Herbecks Versprechen, about a 2014 electronic sound performance based on a poem by Ernst Herbeck, by artist Karlheinz Essl (commissioned by the Museum Gugging, webpage and videos in German).
  • The original book in which psychiatrist Leo Navratil first presented Herbeck’s work to the public: Schizophrenie und Sprache. Zur Psychologie der Dichtung. Published by Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1966. In the book, Herbeck was named with a pseudonym: Alexander.

 


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