Researchers suggest Robert Burns may have had bipolar disorder. The findings Mood disorder in the personal correspondence of Robert Burns: Testing a novel inter-disciplinary approach are published in the Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.

More than 800 letters and journals have helped the academics to analyse the mental state of Robert Burns.The project also looked beyond Scotland's national bard's correspondence to his relationships and day-to-day life in a bid to establish if he had a psychiatric disorder.

The other three blocks of letters acted as further pilot tests of the methodology with an individual not connected to the study randomly selecting three different starting points for each of the samples. This blind sample had a total of 104 letters assessed.

Burn Variations

Further analysis will be carried out by the project which will allow the construction of a "life mood map" to chart the variations of Burns's mood over his lifetime offering a fuller understanding of Scotland's national bard.

They have pinpointed evidence which showed bouts of increased energy and hyperactivity, and periods of depression and a withdrawal from day-to-day life. This letters to and the different activities he was involved in at the various stages of his life is still being carried out. But we now believe Burns may have had what we would recognised today as bipolar disorder.

They will carry out further in-depth analysis to create a mood map of his life to chart these highs and lows linking it to what was happening both in his private and public life to judge how it impacted on his writing.

This work might also help to destigmatise psychiatric disorders such as bipolar disorder and depression. The third section will go on to analyse some of his poems and songs, looking for evidence of his mental health affecting what he was writing, whether it was the subject matter, the quantity, the quality or the language he used.

In gaining a better understanding of the man behind the myth, the project will help create a more accurate representation of the real Robert Burns. 

Letter Block 1 was from 29 October 1793 to 12 January 1794. It covers a period of mild depression identified by Burns himself in his writing and used as a test for the suitability of letters as a source of evidence.

Letter Block 2 was from 29 November 1786 to 5 February 1787. Although there is evidence of exaggeration and grandiosity which may point to hypomania, there is stronger evidence of an episode of depression which included anxiety about being exposed to the public.

Letter Block 3 covered a period 28 May 1790 to 17 January 1791 a period of great physical and creative activity for Burns. At this time in the poet's life, assuming full-term deliveries, both his wife Jean Armour and Anna Park, a local barmaid, fell pregnant in late June or early July by Burns.

Letter Block 4 covered 22 September 1794 to 8 March 1795 when Burns was living in Dumfries with Jean Armour and their five children, working as an excise officer and heavily involved in writing, collecting and editing songs for Edinburgh publisher George Thomson. This was a period with sporadic days indicative of hypomania but overall no conclusive evidence of any prolonged periods of hypomania.