Was Mary Todd Lincoln's Erratic Behavior Due to a Vitamin Deficiency?

WJC

Major General
Judge Adv. Genl.
Thread Medic
Answered the Call for Reinforcements
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gem

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Oct 26, 2012
I'll summarize the findings.

Sotos believed she suffered from pernicious anemia , a disease that results in malabsorption of vitamin b12 from the intestines, resulting in a vitamin b12 deficiency. Vitamin b12 deficiency causes many problems along the neuropsychiatric realm, and gastrointestinal symptoms including tongue inflammation which can cause sore tongue (an unusual complaint that Mary Todd Lincoln had) and anemia which could cause such symptoms as pallor and fatigue.

Sotos argued, "Mary's physical afflictions included fevers, headaches, fatigue, a rapid heart rate, progressive weakness, a sallow complexion and tingling of the skin, he wrote. All are consistent with vitamin B-12 deficiency.

And her irritability, delusions and hallucinations also are in line with such a deficiency."
 

amweiner

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Feb 8, 2017
Location
Monterey, CA
And her irritability, delusions and hallucinations also are in line with such a deficiency
I have never read anything indicating that Mary Todd Lincoln suffered from hallucinations. Delusions are rather hard to assess retrospectively, even more so when the person making that diagnosis hasn't interviewed the person in question.

I learned something crucial in my first class in graduate school: if there are circumstances that can better explain a person's emotional or behavioral symptoms, a psychiatric diagnosis is NOT indicated. It should demonstrate that our modern willingness to throw around psychiatric diagnoses is, at best, irresponsible and at worst dangerous. All of this means that life experiences (especially trauma) can result in feelings of depression, nervousness, mood changes, a sense that you're "going crazy", and even hearing or seeing things that aren't there. The symptoms alone don't mean you have a certain condition/illness/diagnosis.

Mary Lincoln got thrust into the eat-everyone-alive atmosphere of Washington D.C., was treated quite cruelly by Washington society (I'm looking at you, Kate Chase), lost two children, had other family members die during the War, was accused of being a Confederate sympathizer, and watched her husband murdered. As a psychologist, I think she was exposed to enough trauma to render her mute; that she was able to function at all after Abraham's death (and then losing Tad) is testament to her resilience and emotional strength.

Could she have suffered from a vitamin deficiency? Maybe. No one has shown me any lab values that would convince me, though, and in any case I think we do a disservice to people by trying to diagnose them at such a distance in time. Mary Lincoln deserves a little more kindness at our hands, I think; I can say with certainty that I wouldn't last through a tenth of what she endured.
 

gem

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Oct 26, 2012
I have never read anything indicating that Mary Todd Lincoln suffered from hallucinations. Delusions are rather hard to assess retrospectively, even more so when the person making that diagnosis hasn't interviewed the person in question.

I learned something crucial in my first class in graduate school: if there are circumstances that can better explain a person's emotional or behavioral symptoms, a psychiatric diagnosis is NOT indicated. It should demonstrate that our modern willingness to throw around psychiatric diagnoses is, at best, irresponsible and at worst dangerous. All of this means that life experiences (especially trauma) can result in feelings of depression, nervousness, mood changes, a sense that you're "going crazy", and even hearing or seeing things that aren't there. The symptoms alone don't mean you have a certain condition/illness/diagnosis.

Mary Lincoln got thrust into the eat-everyone-alive atmosphere of Washington D.C., was treated quite cruelly by Washington society (I'm looking at you, Kate Chase), lost two children, had other family members die during the War, was accused of being a Confederate sympathizer, and watched her husband murdered. As a psychologist, I think she was exposed to enough trauma to render her mute; that she was able to function at all after Abraham's death (and then losing Tad) is testament to her resilience and emotional strength.

Could she have suffered from a vitamin deficiency? Maybe. No one has shown me any lab values that would convince me, though, and in any case I think we do a disservice to people by trying to diagnose them at such a distance in time. Mary Lincoln deserves a little more kindness at our hands, I think; I can say with certainty that I wouldn't last through a tenth of what she endured.

There are reports she suffered from hallucinations.

http://interactive.wttw.com/programs/lincolnretrial/marytodd

"Before her insanity trial, her hallucinations included seeing smoke spewing out of a chimney and she confided to her son Robert that Chicago was burning…long after the 1871 Chicago fire. She thought Indian spirits were taking bones from her face and pulling wires from her eyes. She stuffed her pockets and petticoat with $57,000 dollars in securities (worth more than a million dollars today), yet she thought she was impoverished. "
 

amweiner

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Feb 8, 2017
Location
Monterey, CA
There are reports she suffered from hallucinations.

http://interactive.wttw.com/programs/lincolnretrial/marytodd

"Before her insanity trial, her hallucinations included seeing smoke spewing out of a chimney and she confided to her son Robert that Chicago was burning…long after the 1871 Chicago fire. She thought Indian spirits were taking bones from her face and pulling wires from her eyes. She stuffed her pockets and petticoat with $57,000 dollars in securities (worth more than a million dollars today), yet she thought she was impoverished. "
That is a website with information about a television show, not a source.

This site appears to have somewhat more reliable information, and suggests that reports about hallucinations could have been due to migraine headaches. Regardless, please see my earlier post and the statement that hallucinations themselves are not indicative of psychosis. Hallucinations can be caused by substance use, exposure to toxins, headaches, dehydration, exposure, sleep deprivation, and trauma (just to name a few).
 

gem

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Oct 26, 2012
Often times historians draw conclusions based on the best information available which is often limited by a number of factors.

I'd don't see anything wrong, per se, with trying to use the historical record to draw conclusions including medical ones as long as its done in good faith.
 

amweiner

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Feb 8, 2017
Location
Monterey, CA
Often times historians draw conclusions based on the best information available which is often limited by a number of factors.

I'd don't see anything wrong, per se, with trying to use the historical record to draw conclusions including medical ones as long as its done in good faith.
Sorry if I sound argumentative, gem, but I do see problems with this as it pertains to mental health. I also apologize if I sound snobbish about this - I just feel very strongly about the ethical practice of psychology and see every day how the field is easily misused to malign, discriminate, and harm.

I feel much the same way about "experts" who go on television to come up with some off-the-cuff diagnosis of someone they've never met; it is the worst kind of quackery. We can certainly go back through historical records to say - in all fairness - that Mary Lincoln dealt with mood changes and was often subject to angry outbursts. It's documented by several people who were there. But assuming we know the cause of these is irresponsible. Maybe she had a brain tumor. Maybe she did have this vitamin deficiency. Maybe she was tired of people on her case all the time. Maybe she felt like she was going "crazy" after watching her husband get shot in the head at a play she wanted to go to. I'm not an advocate for stifling inquiry or suggesting that we can't ask about the cause, but I ask you to consider that assuming pathology without sufficient evidence is harmful. This, in my opinion, is especially true for women of the time (for some really upsetting reading, try looking over Freud's view of classical hysteria), who could easily be pathologized rather than supported as they dealt with tremendous change and loss.

Please know I don't intend any of this as a personal attack towards you, gem. I've been in the field long enough, however, to know how sausage is made (so to speak), and how ugly psychology can be if we allow it. As I said in an earlier post, I feel for Mary Lincoln and countless others that suffered tremendous pain, but are being treated as mentally ill in some modern-day exercise in psychological sadism, simply because we can. I don't think it's a good use of historical inquiry, and it's a dangerous use of psychobiography.

Just my thoughts,
Adam
 

Mrs. V

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
May 5, 2017
I have always thought that she suffered post partum depression. And I think it was abominable that no provisions were made for her, as the widow of a murdered president. And who knows what the married life looked like. What went on behind clsed doors, we will never know.
 

huskerblitz

Major
Joined
Jun 8, 2013
Location
Nebraska
I have always thought that she suffered post partum depression. And I think it was abominable that no provisions were made for her, as the widow of a murdered president. And who knows what the married life looked like. What went on behind clsed doors, we will never know.
What type of provisions are you referring to? She eventually got a pension from Congress and it was increased the year of her own death. Are you referring to other types of provisions?
 

gem

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Oct 26, 2012
Sorry if I sound argumentative, gem, but I do see problems with this as it pertains to mental health. I also apologize if I sound snobbish about this - I just feel very strongly about the ethical practice of psychology and see every day how the field is easily misused to malign, discriminate, and harm.

I feel much the same way about "experts" who go on television to come up with some off-the-cuff diagnosis of someone they've never met; it is the worst kind of quackery. We can certainly go back through historical records to say - in all fairness - that Mary Lincoln dealt with mood changes and was often subject to angry outbursts. It's documented by several people who were there. But assuming we know the cause of these is irresponsible. Maybe she had a brain tumor. Maybe she did have this vitamin deficiency. Maybe she was tired of people on her case all the time. Maybe she felt like she was going "crazy" after watching her husband get shot in the head at a play she wanted to go to. I'm not an advocate for stifling inquiry or suggesting that we can't ask about the cause, but I ask you to consider that assuming pathology without sufficient evidence is harmful. This, in my opinion, is especially true for women of the time (for some really upsetting reading, try looking over Freud's view of classical hysteria), who could easily be pathologized rather than supported as they dealt with tremendous change and loss.

Please know I don't intend any of this as a personal attack towards you, gem. I've been in the field long enough, however, to know how sausage is made (so to speak), and how ugly psychology can be if we allow it. As I said in an earlier post, I feel for Mary Lincoln and countless others that suffered tremendous pain, but are being treated as mentally ill in some modern-day exercise in psychological sadism, simply because we can. I don't think it's a good use of historical inquiry, and it's a dangerous use of psychobiography.

Just my thoughts,
Adam

I don't believe you are being argumentative, you bring up important points.

I agree ,with much of what you said.

I don't believe its appropriate or ethical to try to place a diagnosis, particularly a psychiatric one, on someone who is living without seeing them.

However, when we are talking about someone who died 150 years ago , seeing them is not possible.

Thus, we are left with 2 choices - not to ask any medical questions, or to ask medical questions with the understanding that there are significant limitations to any conclusions drawn.

I believe the later option is better than the former.

I'm reluctant to consider any area of historical inquiry off limits. I believe there may be something we are able to learn even if its only in the questions that we ask, as opposed to the conclusions we are able to draw.
 

huskerblitz

Major
Joined
Jun 8, 2013
Location
Nebraska
Sorry if I sound argumentative, gem, but I do see problems with this as it pertains to mental health. I also apologize if I sound snobbish about this - I just feel very strongly about the ethical practice of psychology and see every day how the field is easily misused to malign, discriminate, and harm.

I feel much the same way about "experts" who go on television to come up with some off-the-cuff diagnosis of someone they've never met; it is the worst kind of quackery. We can certainly go back through historical records to say - in all fairness - that Mary Lincoln dealt with mood changes and was often subject to angry outbursts. It's documented by several people who were there. But assuming we know the cause of these is irresponsible. Maybe she had a brain tumor. Maybe she did have this vitamin deficiency. Maybe she was tired of people on her case all the time. Maybe she felt like she was going "crazy" after watching her husband get shot in the head at a play she wanted to go to. I'm not an advocate for stifling inquiry or suggesting that we can't ask about the cause, but I ask you to consider that assuming pathology without sufficient evidence is harmful. This, in my opinion, is especially true for women of the time (for some really upsetting reading, try looking over Freud's view of classical hysteria), who could easily be pathologized rather than supported as they dealt with tremendous change and loss.

Please know I don't intend any of this as a personal attack towards you, gem. I've been in the field long enough, however, to know how sausage is made (so to speak), and how ugly psychology can be if we allow it. As I said in an earlier post, I feel for Mary Lincoln and countless others that suffered tremendous pain, but are being treated as mentally ill in some modern-day exercise in psychological sadism, simply because we can. I don't think it's a good use of historical inquiry, and it's a dangerous use of psychobiography.

Just my thoughts,
Adam
It's a common past time here. I questioned a diagnosis on Grant a few days ago. I suppose I don't have a huge issue with people doing that as long as we don't make the armchair diagnosis 'concrete' so others will think later it is historically factual when in fact it is mere speculation.
 
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