Winston Churchill and Depression

One of my heroes has always been Sir Winston Churchill (1874–1965), the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during World War II. His active and steadfast resistance to Adolf Hitler, along with his vehement refusal to even consider defeat, helped inspire his nation to victory against Nazi Germany. His strength of character and his determination to never give up—even in the most dire circumstances—has made him one of the greatest leaders the world has ever known.

Winston Churchill Victory

Aside from all of that, Churchill was a very funny man. Let me share an example of his humor.

As some of you are aware, Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt were actually very good friends. Once, while Churchill was staying at the White House, President Roosevelt decided to stop by Churchill’s room. The Prime Minister, who had just finished taking a bath, was pacing back and forth in his room—completely naked. When Roosevelt rolled into the room and saw Churchill in the buff, Churchill calmly replied, “You see, Mr. President, I have nothing to hide from you.” [Source, TIME]

Winston Churchill and Depression

But there was something which hid from the world—he struggled with what he called “the black dog” of depression. Researchers and biographers have since diagnosed him as someone who struggled regularly with major episodes of depression.

Concerning Winston Churchill and depression, psychiatrist Anthony Storr said this: “Only a man who knew what it was to discern a gleam of hope in a hopeless situation, whose courage was beyond reason, and whose aggressive spirit burned at its fiercest when he was hemmed in and surrounded by enemies, could have given emotional reality to the words of defiance which rallied and sustained us [during World War II].”

The full weight of Europe on his shoulders, he was, in many respects, a lone man standing against the full onslaught of Adolf Hitler—one of the most evil men in history. In studying Churchill’s life—his victories and defeats, along with his emotional obstacles and personal challenges—I am perpetually amazed by his indomitable will to fight his way forward.

In a speech delivered to the House of Commons on June 4, 1940, Churchill rallied his beleaguered nation with these words: “We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

Consider the context of those words. Not only was Churchill leading the charge against Nazi Germany, he was simultaneously leading a personal charge against his own depression.

With this in mind, the following phrase (one of his most famous quotes) is given even more power and meaning: “Never give in—never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

Winston Churchill and Depression
Winston Churchill and Depression

I’d like to pause here and be completely candid with you. While writing about depression, I have felt discouraged many times. The process of creating books and blog posts about it has  caused many different thoughts, feelings, and experiences to resurface. Some of these have been good, but most of them have been very difficult to recall. I am often confronted with feelings of despondency, depression, and insecurity. After all, I begin to think who am I? Who am I that the world should care what I have to say?

But in these moments of self-doubt, I have often looked at my poster of Churchill. He doesn’t look back at me. Instead, he looks forward, into some distant horizon—as if to say, “Never give in. Keep moving forward.”

Winston Churchill and Depression FDR

Please consider this incredible irony of the friendship between Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Here are two leaders faced with tremendous challenges. One of them struggles with the darkness of depression; the other is bound to a wheelchair. Had they grown up in Nazi Germany, Hitler would have had both men exterminated for their imperfections. And yet, these two men—these two imperfect people—moved forward, and together, they defeated a darkness which had swept across Europe.

I think that there is a lot we can learn from Winston Churchill and depression, the most important being this:

“Never give in. Keep moving forward.”

About the author

Seth Adam Smith

Seth Adam Smith is a best-selling, award-winning author and blogger whose writings have been translated into over thirty languages and featured on Huffington Post, Good Morning America, Fox News, CNN, the Today Show, and many other news outlets around the world.

A survivor of a suicide attempt in 2006, Seth is an advocate for resources and understanding concerning depression and suicide prevention and regularly writes about these topics in his books and on his blog. He recently finished "Rip Van Winkle and the Pumpkin Lantern," and is currently working on a series of historical novels set in Colonial America.

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