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January 2011



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Simone Hoermann, Ph.D.

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”.


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