Winston Churchill’s mental health has been a widely studied topic, largely commencing with the publication of Winston Churchill: The Struggle for Survival 1940-1965 by Lord Moran, Churchill’s doctor for the last 25 years of his life. Since then there have been a number of studies trying to posthumously diagnose the prime minister’s mental health. Wilfred Attenborough in his Diagnosing Churchill: Bipolar or “Prey to Nerves”?, as set out in the introduction, seeks to scrutinize the “posthumous psychiatric diagnoses of Churchill as bipolar/manic-depressive, and their biographical-evidential foundations.” The excellent book effectively traces Churchill’s life as it relates to his mental health and considers the arguments of previous writers on the subject, including Ghaemi, Fieve, Owen, and Norman. Attenborough concludes in answer to the question asked in his book’s title that, “Churchill’s variation in mood throughout his life, until he began to suffer the depredations of his advanced old age, were reactive to, and reasonably proportionate to, events and circumstances. By definition, this means they were not, they could not be, manic-depression.” In this conclusion Attenborough is joined by the study (too recently published to be consulted by Attenborough in his research), “Did Sir Winston Churchill suffer from the ‘black dog’?” by Anthony M. Daniels and J. Allister Vale and published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (111:11, 2018). Those authors, both from the City Hospital, Birmingham, conclude that “the available evidence suggests that Churchill suffered no major psychiatric disorder.”
In reading Attenborough’s book this reviewer observes that the scholarship on Churchill’s mental health largely seems to correlate his mental health only with the successes and failures of his political career. The joys and difficulties in his personal life (such as his marriage, birth of his children, the death of his mother and daughter Marigold both in 1921, the marriages and divorces of his children, the difficult relationship with his son, his finances, physical health, personal struggles of his daughter Diana, and the death of his greatest friend Lord Birkenhead in 1930) are rarely considered in determining the stresses and anxieties Churchill was undergoing at a particular moment.
The reviewer was a peer reviewer of the manuscript.