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Brad Henry wonders: "Has anyone documented what was the nature of Van Gogh's mental illness? I noted in reading the Bio that Van Gogh had gonorrhea at one time. Is it possible that his mental problems were related to long term exposure to that disease or possibly long term exposure to syphilis? I understand that mental disorders can occur from long term untreated syphilis."

Can anyone recommend a good, well researched book which explores this issue in detail?

Paula Grove has an excellent recommendation:

Click here to order 'Stranger on the Earth' I am currently reading the book Stranger on the Earth by Albert J. Lubin (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972). I believe it is still in print (or possibly a new, revised edition) as I saw one by Lubin in paperback at Barnes and Noble. Lubin is/was a psychiatrist who was given permission to review Vincent's medical records at the hospital in Saint-Rémy. He also had many interviews with Vincent's nephew and wife. He traveled the Van Gogh country extensively, and would certainly have availed himself of all the original source material available.

Epilepsy, results of sexually transmitted diseases, alcoholism, medications, depression and mania (bi-polar disease) have all been advanced as the cause of Vincent's aberrant behavior and "breakdowns." One would also have to include a genetic predisposition to mental illness. His mother was depressed, I believe a sibling also committed suicide, and his sister Wilhemina was confined in a mental institution for many years. Having been a professional in the mental health/substance abuse field for 25 years, my personal opinion is "all the above."

While alcoholism or other drug addiction could certainly cause many of his symptoms, they may also have been his way of self-medicating his depression and mania symptoms. I do not believe his painting is a result of vision disturbance caused by anything. I do think his deep emotional turmoil drove him to utilize and develop his undeniable talent. He also drove himself this way in spite of his great suffering.

If you have not seen Lubin's book, I would guess it would be in the fine arts collection of any large university/library.


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