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Lincoln’s Silver Lining

Bob Houghtaling fantasizes about a movie starring Lincoln but focusing, like Silver Linings Playbook, on mental illness.


Congratulations to the folks who put the film Argo on the screen. Winning the Academy Award for best picture is an honor well deserved. For me, however, I was torn between rooting for Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook. Perhaps it’s because of my interest in both the Civil War and mental health concerns. Despite the fact that neither won for best picture both films hit home with many viewers. In fact, I wonder what would happen if we were able to combine the best of both movies and turn it into a film classic? Perhaps we might call it Lincoln’s Silver Lining.

Our new picture would take place during the time of Civil War and would include some of the idiosyncratic/mental health issues portrayed in Silver Linings Playbook. If the truth be told many of the characters who helped Lincoln emancipate slaves, pass new amendments and win the "war between the states" had some powerful mental health concerns to overcome.

It’s been said that "Honest Abe" himself suffered from serious bouts of depression. Much has been written about his dark moods. Add in war, loss of a child, along with a deeply troubled wife and Mr. Lincoln would make a wonderful leading man for our film.

Our leading lady would be none other than Mary Todd Lincoln. Mary, who was always tightly wound, really struggled after the death of young Willie. She would eventually be sent away for psychiatric care by her oldest son, Robert. Losing a son and shortly after the war a husband, proved to be too much to bear.

No good movie succeeds without the help of some fine supporting actors. Our cast would be filled in by U.S. Grant (suffering from alcohol issues), William Tecumseh Sherman (depression), Andrew Johnson (Lincoln’s incompetent and heavy drinking successor) and some others with cameo appearances. Examples might be John Brown (the fanatic), Stonewall Jackson (a religious zealot and hypochondriac), John Wilkes Booth (slightly delusional) and others who would certainly make interesting additions to our film. WOW – what a cast!

Remember all of this took place before psychotherapy and medications. Imagine a scene with Grant and Johnson sitting in an AA meeting? How about Lincoln asking his wife about the kinds of medications she was taking. Add in some music by the Luminaires along with Dylan and Johnny Cash performing Girl from the North Country and you’ve got a smash hit.

Now we all realize that Lincoln’s Silver Lining will probably never be made but looking at the proposed picture’s content might deserve some reflection. Mental illness is certainly a hot topic these days. While school shootings and prescription drug overdoses gain much of the headlines most of those struggling with a myriad of mental health concerns suffer in a far more subtle fashion. In fact, many are able to function at high levels. I guess that’s what this article is really about.

Man’s history is replete with those who have had some form of mental illness. It has been said that Churchill (depression, alcohol abuse) Beethoven (depression) John Nash (schizophrenia) and Isaac Newton (just about everything) all performed great feats in spite of their issues.

Throw in George Patton (who felt he was a reincarnated ancient general), Vincent Van Gogh (T.B.A.) and a bunch of drug addicted musicians (Lennon, Clapton, Crosby, etc.) and it is startling to see how these people ran countries, won Noble Prizes, developed physics, vanquished armies, painted beautifully and wrote great music.

For certain, those listed above made some great contributions to our world. Unfortunately, Caligula, Nero and Hitler had demons who drove them in a far different direction. So, what makes some individuals with mental health concerns kill a bunch of little kids in an elementary school and others to find a way to do wonderful things? Then again, as was stated previously, most folks with mental illness(es) find a way to "just" fit in. In fact, these people are in our families, at jobs and just those whom we happen to say hello to on the street. Confusing thing this mental illness stuff is.

Over the last couple of decades a number of new medications and therapeutic strategies have been created. Where long ago some individuals were sent to insane asylums today we’ve become a bit more caring. Unfortunately we still have a ways to go in terms of treating mental illness. It has been said that one-half of our prison population suffer from addiction and/or mental illness. In addition, a significant portion of our nation’s homeless people are in the same boat. Still misunderstood and full of stigma(s), mental health continues to baffle.

Silver Linings Playbook does a nice job of asking us to look at what is normal. It clearly depicts some of those whom society refers to as behaving in interesting ways. As a society we consider those who have anxiety disorders, bi-polar illness and addictive behaviors as abnormal, sick or in need of treatment (often times meds). At the same time it is OK for us to cheer on boxers who beat each other up. It is also OK to paint ourselves and then drink like fish at football games. How about watching shows about serial killers (Dexter) and taking people like Glen Beck and Lawrence O’Donnell seriously? And let’s not even begin to go into the topic of why nations go to war. On an everyday basis what society refers to as normal is often troubling. For some it seems that mental illness is the inability to conform to the insanity of normalcy. For others it is obviously far more complicated.

Much has changed in recent years – some good, some bad. Two areas of concern for me have been the over-diagnosing of mental illness, along with the proliferation of prescriptions handed out. It seems as though a therapeutic balance has been lost and now medicines have become the focus of treatment over skills building type counseling. Pills in some cases do wonders – but medicating the symptoms is only a part of the treatment dynamics. Are we creating a culture where there is a pill for every problem? Are we expecting medications to teach us about meaning and interacting with others? While it is important to note that many of these medications have proven to be beneficial – relying on them solely ignores some key concerns. Are our ‘cures’ crazier than the issues they were designed for?

jim halsband March 03, 2013 at 03:52 PM
Excellent conversation starter! Let's begin by pulling back the curtain and expose the man controlling the epidemics. Pharmaceutical executives have been quoted as saying that they will not be happy until everyone is on a medication that they manufacture, and why not? Countless billions of dollars are are heaped upon the shareholders of Big Pharma stocks, and growing exponentially, these numbers are staggering! Dr. Mark Hyman's book, The UltraMind Solution, is a comprehensive study on this and exposes the dogma driving us to 'take a pill' for everything! He focuses not only on the Ritalin explosion, but goes deeper and examines the affects of essential vitamin and mineral deficiencies in GMO foods, poor diets, and the highly toxic pollutants that we ingest daily and unknowingly, filled with heavy metals and a plethora of carcinogens. He exposes the health hazards of corn syrup, which is found everywhere and is the root cause of the obesity and diabetes epidemic plaguing America. One prime example he points out is the ADHD epidemic of hyperactive children, these children have a high level of corn syrup in their diets, an addiction to brightly colored cereals that they scream for, because the marketing targets them and parents want their kids to have a 'healthy' breakfast, so these 'poisoned' kids start bouncing off the walls from jump! Give them a pill, so that they will not be disruptive, and so it goes.
jim halsband March 03, 2013 at 04:17 PM
If I may continue on Dr. H's study and findings, he demonstrates that Ritalin-like therapies work as prescribed in only 25% of the children being medicated, and further reveals that of that small percentage, in only 25% of those, does the drug work 100% as designed, in the rest of the cases, it is the side effects that present which are mistakenly equated as curative. This is astounding and a destructive path in childhood development! In a separate and just as alarming article, it examines the psychologies of leading high-powered corporate executives who display at least 12 markers shared with psychopathic killers, which makes a great deal of sense as they have had to claw their way to the top and fight off competitors. One of these telling markers is an absence of remorse and disconnect from compassion toward their victims. This explains a great deal in regard to how world leaders can send kids off to wars to kill and be killed to simply protect oil companies' and war profiteers' revenue streams. We seem to be in a pythonic grip being squeezed to death from the cradle to the grave by greed of an elite and deeply depraved few. And now, how about we expand this conversation and hear from the rest of Bob's loyal followers!
jim halsband March 03, 2013 at 05:28 PM
A closer look at the most recent mass shootings, Lanza, Loughner, Holmes and the Virginia Tech killers were all on psychotropic drugs, either overmedicated, mismedicated or dealing with the excruciations resulting from withdrawals from going off these meds. A rarity, thank goodness, but incontrovertible evidence of the worst possible side effect driven outcomes.
Deb Savitt March 03, 2013 at 05:43 PM
For more on Lincoln and his depression I recommend Doris Kearns Goodwin's book Team of Rivals. Against the odds, Lincoln pulled himself out of many a dismal day. It's been a long winter season often with very little sunlight ... all the more reason to let our own inner light shine. You have done just that Bob Houghtaling with this interesting discussion/article.

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