Study of Robert Burns’ Letters Reveal Scottish Writer ‘May Have Been Bipolar’

Robert Burns

Scotland’s national bard Robert Burns may have had bipolar disorder, according to researchers at the University of Glasgow.

More than 800 letters and journals written by Burns were studied in an attempt to analyse his mental state.

The project, which started in 2015, also looked into his personal relationships and day-to-day life.

Now the Glasgow team believe they have evidence to suggest Burns’ mood cycled between depression and hypomania.

They say this might explain the writer’s periods of “intense creativity, temperamental personality and unstable love life”.

The research, published in The Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, looked at blocks of letters across four separate timeframes from 1786 to 1795.

The first covered a three-month period around December 1793. This time was specifically chosen by researchers as it was a known period of “melancholia or depression” identified by Burns in his own writing.

At this time, Burns’ letters show him feeling “altogether Novemberish, a damn’d melange of fretfulness and melancholy…my soul flouncing & fluttering”.

Two of the letters met the criteria for clinical depression.

Moira Hansen, the principal researcher on the project, said: “During his lifetime and since his death, Burns has often been viewed as a tortured poetic genius which helped to explain his reputation as a lover of life, women and drink.

“But it is only in the last two decades that it has been mooted he may have suffered from a mood disorder.”

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