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Historical recovery heroes – Isaac Newton

Elizabeth Wakely (Retired History Teacher and Service User, London, UK)
Jerome Carson (Consultant Clinical Psychologist at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK)

Mental Health and Social Inclusion

ISSN: 2042-8308

Article publication date: 15 August 2011




Isaac Newton has been described as the father of modern science. What is less well known is that he had mental health problems. Here, the authors aim to review the literature on his problems and life to see if he was a mental health recovery hero.


The paper reviewed all the published papers on Newton's mental health problems, as well as many of the biographies written on him.


Scholars of Newton have focussed most of their attention on Newton's breakdown of 1693. This has been attributed to mercurialism or paranoid psychosis. The more likely explanation is depression or bipolar disorder. Personality factors are also critical in understanding Newton; he had a troubled upbringing and problems in relating to others. The latter enabled him to focus exclusively on his research and experiments and may have contributed to his greatness.


The authors have brought to bear their insights as a professional historian and as a clinical psychologist, giving this paper a unique perspective from previous uni‐disciplinary reviews.



Wakely, E. and Carson, J. (2011), "Historical recovery heroes – Isaac Newton", Mental Health and Social Inclusion, Vol. 15 No. 3, pp. 122-128.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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