Letter: Roosevelt and mental illness
The recent Monitor observation of the 114th anniversary of Teddy Roosevelt’s address at St. Paul’s School (Monitor, June 7) did not mention that Roosevelt’s brother, Elliot, briefly attended St. Paul’s in 1875. Suffering from what now sounds like serious depression, anxiety disorder or likely both, Elliot was fetched home by his older brother Teddy around Christmastime.
Mental illness is no respecter of social class, prominence or wealth. As the years passed, Elliot sought relief in alcohol and foreign adventures, hunting big game in India and elsewhere.
He married and became a father to Eleanor Roosevelt (later FDR’s first lady and a leader in civil rights and women’s concerns), who idolized him but rarely saw him.
By the time Elliot was 30, his family intervened, and he was committed to a series of institutions.
He died at 34 as a result of a suicide attempt.
Because Elliot was from a prominent family, his frequent drunkenness and resulting commitment became a public scandal. New York papers headlined his disgrace as a way to sell papers.
The 19th century attitude toward mental illness was that it was weakness, something to be kept hidden at best.
It would be nice to think that our attitudes toward mental health issues in the 21st century are more enlightened. Are they? When people are locked up due to drug or alcohol problems, do we see that they will leave prison with better coping skills? Or do we just warehouse them out of sight?