Published on September 21, 2014
Mental Health Recovery Heroes Past and Present (2011) Edited by Sophie Davies et al Chapter 2, Florence Nightingale Before Florence went to the Crimea, she had experienced episodes of depression, and after the Crimea she spent many years as an invalid. There is some suggestion that she had bipolar disorder. She showed great promise at maths especially when she was a girl. She was not for marriage and motherhood, and turned down promises of marriage. Her family were wealthy, and she experienced depression from boredom in her home life. At age 17 she got a call from God, the first of several. She decided to answer this call by entering nursing, and wanted to die when her family disagreed. At 27 she had a breakdown and went to a Lutheran community in Germany where she had experience of helping the poor and sick, and returned to work in Harley Street in nursing. Her friend was Sidney Herbert, Secretary for War, and she set out for the Crimea. She saw the suffering at Scutari. A Commission got sanitation improved, and this caused the death rate to improve. Florence had thought the problem was with purveyance and supply, and disagreed with the Commission, which she later regretted. She became the Lady with the Lamp, and returned to England with brucellosis which kept her confined to bed for many years along with back pain. In 1857 she finally acknowledged the importance of sanitation and began work on reform. After her mother’s death in 1880 she became more active again. She helped with improved hospital design at Woolwich for the Army and at St Thomas’. (Was this statutory engagement by the State a forerunner of the NHS?). She set out to introduce preventative medicine using her maths skills. She developed ‘coxcombs’, an early form of pie chart. She died in 1910, much venerated. Florence was not a feminist and thought women should
not be doctors. She corresponded with John Stuart Mill. Florence could stay awake for 20 hours out of 24, and this may indicate bipolar disorder. This was complicated by survivor guilt from the Crimea and guilt at not spotting sanitation and hygiene as major issues. She was like a wounded healer, as with Glenn Roberts and Greek myth around the half-man half-Centaur. Someone so ill could help with the sick so effectively. She may also have had PTSD. She seems to have made a recovery from her main ailments, physical and mental at age 60 and went on to live to 90.
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