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Iconic Individuals To Look Up To With Mental Illnesses

Iconic Individuals To Look Up To With Mental Illnesses

Mental Illness sucks! According to the National Institute of Mental Illness tens of millions of people in the United States struggles with mental illness. Mental illness does not discriminate and can impede on anyone’s daily functioning. There are times that are worst than others. When times are rough, it is hard to be hopeful for remission. This list of icons have broken stigmas and persevered through their mental illness. 

Brian Wilson

Brian Wilson co-founded the Beach Boys. He struggles with schizoaffective disorder and substance misuse. Despite what he has gone through, he created fantastic art. Wilson was a songwriter for the Beach Boys.

Wilson began seeking treatment during the late 60s. His ability to drop his rising career and check himself into psych hospitals is commendable. 


Iconic Individuals To Look Up To With Mental Illnesses

Sylvia Plath

We’re looking up to Sylvia Plath, not because of how she ended but because of how she lived. In her diaries, she turns the mundane into the magical. She is brushing her teeth or picking her nose, and it becomes the most interesting page you may ever see on the subject again in your lifetime. Plath struggled heavily with depression. Her mood bled into the page. 

Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher, best known for her role as Princess Lia in the Star War Trilogy. Ms. Fisher was a big advocate for the mental health community. She would share about her own struggle with Bipolar type 1 disorder and substance misuse. 


Robert Downey Jr.

Robert Downey Jr (RDJ) has struggled with substance use. He is a great example of how someone can continue to move forward and find a more fulfilling existence. He’s always had this great person inside himself. Regardless of what someone is struggling with, they’re still human. He was able to continue being cool, even when someone blatantly wants to ruin his day for personal gain. He has demonstrated great strengths throughout his career. 

Iconic Individuals To Look Up To With Mental Illnesses

Chris Cornell

Chris Cornell was the lead singer of Soundgarden and Audioslave. On May 18th, 2017, Cornell suicided. Regardless of how someone dies, they can be successful. The future doesn’t cause the past.


Cornell would write songs about the challenge of living with mental illness. Cornell’s music is a reflexion of and voice for those battling with depression and substance misuse.

John Forbes Nash Jr.

John Nash suffered from schizophrenia. A genius in mathematics, he made major contributions to society. The movie A Beautiful Mind was based on the book by the same name.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was said to have struggled with depression. Regardless of your thoughts on the politics of his actions as president, he accomplished much while being president. 


Vincent Van Gogh

Starry Night is one of the most famous pieces of art in the world. Vincent Van Gogh struggled with depression and was an outcast in his french village. Vincent Van Gogh was led to believe that he was not successful and would never measure up to his contemporaries, such as Renoir or Monet. Van Gogh left a permanent mark on modern society. His contributions to the world deserve admiration.

Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill struggled with depression and alcohol misuse, which he often referenced. He napped constantly and took long hot baths. He would give notes while in the tub. Hot water can relax muscle tension and a fatigued mind and body are the symptoms of depression.

Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy was influenced by German, existential philosophers. Tolstoy is known for his novels and short stories. Tolstoy’s imbues his pessimism into his protagonist’s character development throughout his stories.


Tim Ferriss

Ferriss has stated that he has bipolar disorder and loves breaking learning curves. He is an innovator and a TED Talk regular. He is a great example of someone who can climb out of the depression bunker.

Russell Brand

Russell Brand struggled with substance misuse. Brand does not shy away from sharing his story and has incorporated it into his comedy sets. Brand accurately describes his obstacles and daily challenges with maintaining his sobriety.

Iconic Individuals To Look Up To With Mental Illnesses

See Also

Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin is an advocate for those on the spectrum. She has written several books about her experience and has helped educate clinicians and families of what it is like to struggle with autism. 

Demi Lovato

Demi Lovato started on the Disney Channel as an actress. Today, Demi is primarily a singer and many of her songs have been at the top of the billboard charts. Lovato has been very outspoken about her continuous battle with bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and bulimia. Many of her songs depict her struggles with her relationships with others. 


J.K. Rowling 

Before J.K. Rowling was able to get Harry Potter published after double-digit rejections. She was an impoverished, single mother, struggling with depression. Rowling has shared her experience with depression. Rags to riches stories are rare. What’s not rare is that they are the same, genuinely talented person, regardless of their circumstances.

Iconic Individuals To Look Up To With Mental Illnesses

Nell Casey

Editor of Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression, Casey compiled essays by other authors on how those authors perceived and experienced their own mental illnesses. One of the best concepts of the book comes from the essay Poodle Bed by Darcey Steinke.


Steinke goes into detail on what she calls a poodle bed, essentially a small closet space where one burrito wraps them-self in a blanket. This is comforting to those with anxiety.

John Green

John Green is the author of The Fault in our Stars. He has opened up publicly about his obsessive-compulsive disorder. He talks about the infamous juxtaposition between stigmatizing mental illness and romanticizing it. A great point that he brings up is that there is no way to accurately describe what is happening in someone’s mind when they are mentally ill, save analogies and metaphors.

Green is also a vlogger, along with his brother Hank Green.


Final Thoughts

Many people are able to channel their emotions into motivation: writing, painting, music, etc. Every person on this list has overcome much more than what can be said on paper.

Mental illness can be managed with the right supports. All of these individuals had to persevere, regardless of society’s stigma. Which icons do you look up to? Let us know in the comments below!

Images via Wikimedia Commons: Daniel Ogren (JK Rowling), Eva Rinaldi (Russell Brand), User Drussel1 (Brian Wilson), and 
Featured image via Good Free Photos (public domain)