Robert Burns “suffered from mental disorder”



SCOTLAND’s bard Robert Burns suffered from a mental disorder, new research suggests.

A new analysis of the Ayrshire poet’s handwriting has revealed he could have been the victim of manic depression.

Joan Charles, an intuitive analyst, was asked by Scottish culture bosses to examine a selection of Burns’ letters and writings and concluded he experienced extreme moods that might today be classed as bipolar disorder.

But National Trust chiefs removed the offending term for the final report submitted by Ms Charles.

A mental health expert has slammed the body for “effectively editing history” by excluding the reference.

The romanticised image of Burns is central to the Scottish Government’s Homecoming 2009 celebrations aimed at attracting thousands of tourists to Scotland.

Blue Devilism

But the Trust issued a watered-down version of the final report which made no mention of extreme moods – even though acclaimed Burns biographer Robert Crawford suggested earlier this year that the bard suffered from a mild form of manic depression.

Burns himself refers to his mood swings as his “blue devilism”.

The Trust has admitted they omitted the word from the report because the evidence was not sufficient to support such a diagnosis.

David Hopes, the NTS curator of the new Robert Burns Memorial Museum, said: “There were handwritten notes that used the word bipolar and a press release was going to be issued by a public relations company.

“But, in the meantime, the NTS intervened. There was real concern that we were painting this picture of a lunatic Burns, which we weren’t trying to do at all.

“There is a suggestion that Burns was bipolar, which may have influenced his writings. It’s normally accepted that Burns wrote because he was inspired by nature, or love or his political views.

“This suggests he was writing as a defence mechanism or as a release. It reveals an edgier Burns, writing, as Joan says, to fill a void in his life.

“The condition could have been a psychological motivation for his writing.”

Emotional tone

Ms Charles said she had no prior in-depth knowledge of Burns before the study began, and the documents included letters he sent to friends, relatives and potential lovers.

Her methods included analysing the documents for emotional tone rather than picking up on the more traditional handwriting characteristics.

The expert found a range of emotional highs and lows contained with Burns’ texts that she agreed could be construed as manic depressive episodes.

In the manuscript for A Winter Night she observes: “Burns was feeling very low and was in a deep, dark place when writing this. He had a tender heart that was misunderstood and this is crying out with hurt from within.

“If you were to look at Burns’ writing, you could term that a bit bipolar. But the Trust thought that was a negative connotation.”

Ms Charles said she did not use the word ‘bipolar’ when discussing her findings with the Trust’s PR agency.

She said: “I said he was a bit up and down, I was asked ‘like bipolar?’ I said yes, but if you want to use the word bipolar that’s your connotation.

“It was put in there at some stage, but I was told the Trust did not want to use that.”

Studies have shown a clear link between creativity and manic depressive illnesses.

Nigel Henderson, spokesperson for ‘see me’ Scotland’s national campaign to end the stigma surrounding mental health, said: “We regret the NTC’s decision to remove the reference to Burns’ experience of bipolar disorder.

“It seems a shame that, in this day and age, we can’t talk about people’s experiences in full, and if the evidence suggests Burns did indeed suffer from bipolar disorder, to remove such a reference is effectively editing history.”