Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Art Buchwald: A Mental Health Hero

I always like to feature the lives of my mental health heroes because I owe my life to their words, their testimonies, that fed me morsels of hope during my suicidal days.

One is Art Buchwald.

He was one of the most successful newspaper columnists of his time, the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize, and a comic genius. But I appreciated Art Buchwald most as one of the three “Blues Brothers,” (with Pulitzer-Prize winner William Styron and former “60 Minutes” co-anchor Mike Wallace) who spoke and wrote publicly about his bouts with depression and bipolar disorder. The funny guy was, to me, a fellow companion in the mission to shed the stigmatization of mood disorders, to educate the public on mental illness, and to offer fellow depressives a message a hope.


Buchwald was loved by many depressives like me because he wrote about his mental disorder so candidly and with brilliant wit. As a young boy raised in foster homes (his mother was institutionalized shortly after his birth and his father was unable to support him and his three sisters during the Depression), he learned to use humor as a survival skill. His feelings of loneliness and confusion translated into jokes and, later on, material for his clever columns.

This Blues Brother was hospitalized for clinical depression in 1963 and for manic depression in 1987. He was suicidal both times, and credited prescription drugs, therapy, and the hospital staff for saving his life. Had the nurses not been there to “rock him like a baby” during his harrowing dark night, he said he believed he might not have survived to see the light at the end of the tunnel.


In his recovery he became the poster boy for depression, and used his high-profile status to educate the public. His appearances on “Larry King Live” to discuss depression generated more requests for transcripts than any show King had yet produced. Buchwald was one of very few prominent people who had the courage to talk straight about mental health issues. In lecture after lecture Buchwald said this to audiences: mental illness is a potentially deadly disease. It is an illness like any other physical malady. If you haven’t experienced it, you can’t possible understand what it’s like. “It’s a terrifying phenomenon,” he said. But for those who seek help, there is hope.

Amen, Art. Thank you for being our advocate during your days on earth.

Photo courtesy of

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Ann

    Thanks for featuring Art Buchwald on your blog. Hearing the stories of famous people like him who have battled mental illness and talked about it publicly gives me hope, too! Thinking about their stories helps me keep going on days when I just don’t think I can.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Margaret

    Thanks for this. I read his book some years ago, and I think he most accurately described the feelings of depression. It helped me a lot – knowing I wasn’t alone…

  • Nancy B

    “…he credited prescription drugs, therapy, and the hospital staff for saving his life. Had the nurses not been there to “rock him like a baby” during his harrowing dark night, he said he believed he might not have survived to see the light at the end of the tunnel.” I wish I could say I witnessed that sort of compassion and vigilance on the part of hospital nurses, staff and even psychiatrists when my daughter has been hospitalized for suicidal depression. There are group sessions, art therapy and individual sessions. Otherwise, I’d characterize the atmosphere as a safe place to guard against suicide but w/o the kind of TLC, fancy menus and other nurturing afforded patients on non-psych floors.
    The pain and suffering of major depression are indeed as real as other physical illnesses but somehow, the same level of empathy and compassion are usually missing. Because of safety and liability concerns, the atmosphere also seems more punitive than therapeutic. Perhaps celebrity and money make that less obvious. I always imagine a safe but healing and nurturing environment —alas, hospitals don’t make as much money on psych patients as perhaps patients with heart disease or cancer or broken hips and insurance companies don’t want to pay for healing and longer stays. Sorry to sound cynical but it never ceases to amaze me the lower quality of “customer service” that psych patients receive in many treatment centers.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Julie Collyer

    Dear Theresa , Thank you for your column especially late on this dark night. My mother had me before she was married. Father didn’t want to know me or her. Current attitude in Australia was to give up baby or be stigmatised. Granmother also illigitimate, adopted and not happy about it. (never happy)Encouraged mum to keep me mum suffered server depression hated me. She married had 2 other daughters. All grown up now. I’ve been married to a very good husband for 21 years 2 happy healthy kids. Never bonded with mum kept away from sisters as adults as can’t cope with their praise of mum and don’t want to say anything bad so as to be further excluded from family. Told a cousin true story the other day. She hasn’t spoken to me since. Great psyc. Starting schema therapy. I hope to feel more cared for in life. Thanks for listening. An extreamly rare thing. Best wishes. God Bless and he does. Julie

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