The Alleged Mental Problems of Vincent van Gogh

New vision on the mental problems of Vincent van Gogh; results from a bottom-up approach using (semi-)structured diagnostic interviews.

Here I republish the Abstract of an article by Willem A Nolen et al. The views expressed here are theirs and do not necessarily reflect the views of the curator of this website.

Interviews were conducted with three art historians “who are very familiar with Van Gogh from his correspondence and other sources as well as a neuropsychiatric examination to evaluate whether the symptoms might be explained by a medical condition.”

Authors

Willem A Nolen 1Erwin van Meekeren 2Piet Voskuil 3Willem van Tilburg 4

The article was originally published here:

International Journal of Bipolar Disorders, 2020 Nov 2;8(1):30. 

Abstract

Background: On July 29, 1890 at the age of 37 years, the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh died from the consequences of a suicide attempt with a gun 2 days earlier. Since then many medical and psychological theories were suggested about what had happened to Van Gogh.

Aim: To present an overview of the history of the mental problems of Van Gogh and the most likely diagnoses.

Method: (Semi-)structured diagnostic interviews were applied to three art historians who are very familiar with Van Gogh from his correspondence and other sources as well as a neuropsychiatric examination to evaluate whether the symptoms might be explained by a medical condition.

Results: Several previously suggested diagnoses could be excluded as being highly unlikely, while other diagnoses could be classified as more of less likely.

Conclusion: Most likely Van Gogh suffered from comorbid illnesses. Since young adulthood, he likely developed a (probably bipolar) mood disorder in combination with (traits of) a borderline personality disorder as underlying vulnerability. This likely worsened through an alcohol use disorder combined with malnutrition, which then led, in combination with rising psychosocial tensions, to a crisis in which he cut off his ear. Thereafter, he likely developed two deliriums probably related to alcohol withdrawal, followed by a worsening with severe depressive episodes (of which at least one with psychotic features) from which he did not fully recover, finally leading to his suicide. As additional comorbidity, focal (temporal lobe) epilepsy cannot be excluded.

Published by dfmarks

Author

2 thoughts on “The Alleged Mental Problems of Vincent van Gogh

  1. This is an awesome post! I studied Vincent Van Gogh in college during Art Appreciation class and we often had class discussions on not only his paintings but his mental health issues as well, which we theorized had a connection to the work of many creators and still does.

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