Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Personality Disorder or Bipolar Disorder?
As I was just in the process of researching some data on Personality Disorders and Bipolar Disorders, I came upon an article by Philippe Huguelet and Nader Perroud that was published in the journal Psychiatry in 2005. The article caught my attention, because it was about the Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The authors were investigating whether, by today’s psychiatric classification system, Mozart could be diagnosed with a mental illness. Given that I am Austrian myself and hail from an area relatively near to where Mozart lived, I was intrigued.
The authors Huguelet and Perroud based their paper on a review of Mozart’s correspondence, several biographies, and several research papers published in medical journals. Since Mozart was born in 1756 and died in 1791, there are obvious limitations to the exactness and amount of information available, so that the conclusions have to be taken with a grain of salt.
That said, Hueguelet and Perroud conclude with certainty that Mozart suffered from depression in his last year of life. This conclusion is consistent with findings of other authors. In his letters, Mozart talked about experiencing a depressed mood, constant sadness and tearfulness, and a markedly diminished interest in composing. He also mentioned a diminished ability to concentrate, a loss of energy, and feelings of excessive guilt. All these symptoms together meet the criteria for a Major Depressive Episode according to today’s diagnostic standards.
In terms of a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, things seem not so clear. Some authors in the past have concluded that Mozart experienced episodes of hypomania, stating that Mozart typically got up at 6am and often worked until 2am, writing letters that at times use inappropriate humor and at other times seem to be incoherent. Hueguelet and Perroud find evidence that these symptoms did not last long enough to qualify for a bipolar disorder proper, though they cannot rule out with absolute certainty a milder form of some type of ‘bipolar spectrum disorder’.
According to Huegelet and Perroud, there is some evidence in Mozart’s biography that point towards the presence of a personality disorder, that is by our contemporary definition ”an enduring pattern of inner experience or behavior that deviates markedly from the expectations of the individual’s culture.” For instance, Mozart had difficulties with money and relied on his father managing his money for him.
He demonstrated some traits of Dependent Personality Disorder: He always needed to be nurtured and supported by others, for instance, his wife or his father, frequently needed to be reassured that his friends really cared about him, and found it hard to tolerate to be alone.
Huegelet and Perroud also found some signs that Mozart had some traits of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD): In his letters, he mentions the feelings of emptiness often experienced by people with BPD. He had temper outbursst, and his over-spending, as well as his drinking can be viewed as a sign of impulsivity. His mood appeared to be shifting between low and upbeat in a very sensitive reaction to circumstances. The authors can only speculate about his sense of identity, and how stable or unstable it may have been – it is unclear whether he was negatively affected by the constant traveling he did during childhood and in light of being raised as a Wunderkind.
Overall, it looks like we can conclude from this paper that the ingenious composer suffered from Major Depressive Disorder (the presence of a bipolar-spectrum disorder seemed less clear) and had traits of Dependent and Borderline Personality Disorder, something we would nowadays likely diagnose as "Personality Disorder Not Otherwise Specified".
intrigued by mozart's early musical genious - cristina - May 28th 2014
Thank you for the article...I was thinking about mozart's musical abilities and it occurred to me that he might have had some form of mental issue...albert einstein and sir isaac newton are being studied and are thought to have had aspergeer syndrome. I am aware that some forms of mental problems can result in great and precociuos abilities...I read th story of mozart's life, as well as most other classical composers...loved him and beethoveen best...mozart was so incredibly young and talented...
Mozart and mental illness - Ben - Apr 18th 2013
Dr. Hoermann has interesting commentary here. I think Mozart had personality disorders as his mood lability is well-known according to his contemporaries. The depression he experienced in the last year of his life was at least in part due to his circumstances: reduced income, fewer opportunities, marital problems, and finally ill health.
However, the music reflects only rarely his melancholy, and generally, Mozart's music expresses longing but rarely out and out sadness- with a few notable exceptions. For the most part, Mozart's music expresses a notable optimism, great joy, and a sly wit.
Lastly, Mozart's letters, particularly to family and especially to his wife, were indeed filled with scatological comments and nearly incomprehensible nonsense talk. Mozart's family, his mother in particular, was known to have a love of scatological humor in her letters to Mozart's father Leopold. Mozart also wrote to his wife in something that is best described as pillow talk, the cute language of lovers use only amongst themselves in private. This is not representative of his mental illness or disorders.
Asberger's - Matt - Apr 14th 2013
There's no way Mozart had Asberger's Syndrome or any type of Autism, as these disorders include lack of eye contact, little to no self esteem, and the avoidance of social situations. All three of these adverse situations would seem detrimental to an attempt to aspire to writing symphonies, which were viewed and critiqued by hundreds of people. And Mozart had great skill at conversing and loved the company of others, show by his desire to drink and his fear of being alone.
Mozart - Jasper - Sep 3rd 2012
I have also read that Mozart could have had ADHD or Asperger-Syndrome.
Both disorders overlapp greatly with Borderline (problems regulating emotions, impulsivity etc.). But the maindifference is that those exist since very early childhood and Borderline develops later.
I would also agree with the theory that Mozart had some autistic tendencies and/or ADHD.
Both disorders also come along with Bipolarity or symptoms that are very simmilar.
I also once read that Mozart propably had a Tic disorders.
Tic disorders go genetically along with autistic traits and ADHD, but there is no genetically similarity towards Borderline. So that those neurodevelopmental disorders propably would make a lot of more sence in Mozarts case than a personality disorders.
Also the autism researcher Tony Attwood is convinced that Mozart hat Asperger-Syndrome.
Bi Polar? - Kaye - Aug 22nd 2012
Sometimes it is the culture that is ill, and right now, our culture is very ill.
Cannot agree more with the above statement.
But I think even at Mozart's worse bipolar moments his music was still much more easy to the ear than poor Robert Schumann.
as for mozart waking up at 6am and sleeping at 2am, a lot of city dwellers nowadays life like this - I would say it hardly suggests anything about his condition, but unless you compare that with his 'down' moments in his life, yes perhaps that would suggest otherwise
Connection(s) - Duran - Apr 5th 2012
So can it be possible that musical talent and mental illness cannot exist without the other?
I know many talented and/or smart people, and all of them have a disorder either in speech, anxiety, or social issues. While simultaneously, all of the normal people are... Well, a way to put it is: they're "well balanced".
I've always wondered if people were like delicate scales; when one part is exaggerated, it must take from another part. Is this possible?
Great Article! - Garage Funk - Aug 13th 2011
I really like the article and feel comfort reading it as I sometimes feel I have similar music talents as Mozart and aswell suffer from severe mood and personality disorders...
I'm not sure what this suggests - James - May 10th 2011
The last sentence describes Mozart as "ingenious", which sounds rather mean. Is this a misprint for genius? Certainly he was, and as such is probably an exception to most rules, so perhaps this speculation sheds little light on either him or the condition. All I can do is be thankful for whatever wiring in his brain enabled the creation of such wonderful music. For me and many others there is Mozart, and then some distance down there is everyone else.
Mozart - Andrew Wallis - Apr 15th 2011
The question is, did Mozart's depression or manic depression make him more creative or not. His music did seem to come from him in a torrent? And the question arises, is there link, genetic or otherwise between Alzheimers & manic depression? What do you think? Andrew.
Disagree - Deb - Aug 30th 2010
Depression, yes, Mozart's letters speak of depression. In fact, his "cold as ice" statement is probably the most profound description of clinical depression I have ever heard. But most of his dependancy and nuturing needs "issues" occurred when he was a child, a teenager, and a young adult attempting to breakaway from an overbearing parent.
Behavior that is similar to behaviors found in personality disorders cannot be applied to children and teens, and it certainly CAN NOT be applied to historical persons who are long dead and cannot defend themselves from misleading biographers and headline grabbing researchers looking for a little fame and to make a name for themselves. The psychological sciences are currently under fire for labeling too many living people as being mentally ill. Now they want to label the dead.
If you want to understand Mozart as much as anyone today can understand Moart, read his letters yourself so you will have the context of his statements and read Solomon's "Mozart: A Life." Also, listen to his music. It speaks for itself.
Finally, the definition used in your article about behavior that is not sanctioned by one's culture being part of defining a personality disorder is a terrible way to determine any type of illness. Sometimes it is the culture that is ill, and right now, our culture is very ill.
thanks for sharing - Sunrise - Aug 14th 2009
Hi Dr. Hoermann!
Thanks for sharing your thoughts--the article was provacative and really captured my attention. My long-time dream has been to write classical music, and although I've had depression and anxiety over the years, I recently discovered, through psychotherapy, that I have dependency issues as well....which means absolutely nothing to anyone--except me! Still, the article exhudes encouragement. We all have a place in this world, regardless of our shortcomings. Your essay, perhaps, provoked a comforting cogitation for those of us who must contend with the adverse affects of our upbringing, but who also wish to turn a negative experience into a positive realization.
Keep writing, Simone. : )