Ernest Hemingway: a psychological autopsy of a suicide

Psychiatry. 2006 Winter;69(4):351-61. doi: 10.1521/psyc.2006.69.4.351.


Much has been written about Ernest Hemingway, including discussion of his well-documented mood disorder, alcoholism, and suicide. However, a thorough biopsychosocial approach capable of integrating the various threads of the author's complex psychiatric picture has yet to be applied. Application of such a psychiatric view to the case of Ernest Hemingway in an effort toward better understanding of the author's experience with illness and the tragic outcome is the aim of this investigation. Thus, Hemingway's life is examined through a review and discussion of biographies, psychiatric literature, personal correspondence, photography, and medical records. Significant evidence exists to support the diagnoses of bipolar disorder, alcohol dependence, traumatic brain injury, and probable borderline and narcissistic personality traits. Late in life, Hemingway also developed symptoms of psychosis likely related to his underlying affective illness and superimposed alcoholism and traumatic brain injury. Hemingway utilized a variety of defense mechanisms, including self-medication with alcohol, a lifestyle of aggressive, risk-taking sportsmanship, and writing, in order to cope with the suffering caused by the complex comorbidity of his interrelated psychiatric disorders. Ultimately, Hemingway's defense mechanisms failed, overwhelmed by the burden of his complex comorbid illness, resulting in his suicide. However, despite suffering from multiple psychiatric disorders, Hemingway was able to live a vibrant life until the age of 61 and within that time contribute immortal works of fiction to the literary canon.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism / history*
  • Bipolar Disorder / history*
  • Brain Injuries / history*
  • Famous Persons*
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Literature, Modern / history*
  • Male
  • Medicine in Literature*
  • Suicide / history*
  • United States

Personal name as subject

  • Ernest Hemingway