World Mental Heath Day: Mental Health and History; Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh Self portrait Image Not mine

Vincent van Gogh Self portrait Image Not mine

Today 10th October 2013 is world Mental Health Day. It seems sad in 2013, in a developed country that there is a great need for awareness for this illness.

If someone says cancer people understand, if people say diabetes people don’t judge but if you say mental health people are more likely to jump to negative misunderstood prejudice ideas.

Those of you who regularly read my blog will have read several blogs on mental health including Richard Dadd Sylvia Plath and Queen Victorias grief. But one person who has always fascinated me as well as tear at my heart strings is the tragic death of Vincent van Gogh.

The year before his death there were very notable changes i the artist mental state. Van Gogh’s brother Theo was able to persuade his sibling to enter into an institution in May 1889 where Vincent was admitted voluntarily to help his mental wellbeing. After 7 months at the institution in December 1889 it was clear that van Gogh had deteriorated rather than improve. He stayed in hospital until May 1890 when he left after a year and only months before his death.

The months following his departure from hospital start off positive up beat, planning the future, however as time moves on this positivity is streaked with negative dark thoughts and feelings of loneliness. By early July it was clear van Gogh was battling his demons again. The black dog was back.

Two days before his death attempted to take his life, the wounds and lack if will to get well would end in his death. On the morning of 27th July 1890 the artist left the inn he was staying in after he had broke his fast at breakfast. He was a man of habit and clearly the people who owned the inn know of his health and cared for him as they were concerned when he had not returned at nightfall. Eventually he returned hunched over at 9 pm. The inn keep checked and questioned him when he was found curled in a ball on his bed. He said he had attempted to kill himself and shot himself in the stomarch. The dr was called to clean his wounds.

The following morning the french police force, the gendarmes questioned him about his self harm. The reply he gave them is heartbreaking:

“My body is mine and I am free to do what I want with it. Do not accuse anybody, it is I that wished to commit sucide”

The Inn keeper sent a telegram to theo that morning and the worried sibling arrived that afternoon. Later that night after falling in and out of consciousness Vincent van Gogh died at 1.30 am on 29th July 2013.

The rollercoaster Of positivity the despondency, the loneliness and helplessness can be seen reflected in both the letters and art that van Gogh produced in the weeks leading to his death. It is frustrating, tragic and ultimately very sad. If van Gogh had lived today he may not have had to resort to taking his life.

However even today, suicide mental illness, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia are all still wrongly surrounded by ignorance, myth, fear, embarrassment, lack of resources, lack of training and lack of compassion within a so called society.

There are advancements in treatments and drugs in the health system but all too often unless you are at the point of suicide or abuse substances the system expects you just to cope unless you are luck enough to have a good GP. This is why we need World Health Day to bring understanding break myths educate and hopefully stop tragedies like van Gogh from happening.

In memory of Ray Chamberlain, a gentle kind friend who lost his battle with the black dogs.

This entry was posted in Art, History and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to World Mental Heath Day: Mental Health and History; Vincent van Gogh

  1. Jannie says:

    Hello! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be ok.
    I’m undoubtedly enjoying your blog and look forward to new posts.

    • Hi Jannie Yes I am on Twitter my handle is @HistorianLaura. Recently loosened privacy on twitter so no longer need to request follow. many thanks Laura

  2. Pingback: Review of the McQueen retrospective at the V&A: Savage Beauty | Laura Brennan, A Historian

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