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Kay Redfield Jamison

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Kay Redfield Jamison (born June 22, 1946) is an American professor of psychiatry and writer who is one of the foremost experts on bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression), from which she herself suffers. She did a Ph.D. in psychology at UCLA and joined the faculty there. She has been named one of the "Best Doctors in the United States" and was chosen by Time magazine as a "Hero of Medicine." She was also chosen as one of the five individuals for the public television series "Great Minds of Medicine."

Her book Manic-Depressive Illness (which she co-authored with Frederick K. Goodwin) is the classic textbook on bipolar disorder. In another book Exuberance: The Passion for Life, she cites research which suggests that 15 percent of people who could be diagnosed as manic depressive may never actually become depressed; in effect, they are permanently 'high' on life. She mentions President Theodore Roosevelt as an example. She herself has written about the agony of severe depression, and she has admitted to feeling suicidal.

In Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament, she shows how bipolar disorder can run in artistic or high-achieving families. As an example, she cites Lord Byron and his ancestors. In Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide, she notes how she and a long-term friend, a brilliant man with bipolar tendencies, made a pact to call each other and to spend a contemplative week together in a cottage if either of them felt suicidal. But in fact he did not get in touch with her before he committed suicide.

Jamison, in an interview, said she was an 'exuberant' person herself, yet she longed for peace and tranquility; but in the end, she preferred "tumultuousness coupled to iron discipline" over leading a "stunningly boring life." In her autobiography, An Unquiet Mind, she concluded: "I long ago abandoned the notion of a life without storms, or a world without dry and killing seasons. Life is too complicated, too constantly changing, to be anything but what it is. And I am, by nature, too mercurial to be anything but deeply wary of the grave unnaturalness involved in any attempt to exert too much control over essentially uncontrollable forces. There will always be propelling, disturbing elements, and they will be there until, as Lowell put it, the watch is taken from the wrist. It is, at the end of the day, the individual moments of restlessness, of bleakness, of strong persuasions and maddened enthusiasms, that inform one's life, change the nature and direction of one's work, and give final meaning and color to one's loves and friendships."

Jamison is the recipient of the National Mental Health Association's William Styron Award (1995), the American Suicide Foundation Research Award (1996), the Community Mental Health Leadership Award (1999), and was a 2001 MacArthur Fellowship recipient.

She is Professor of Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and is an Honorary Professor of English at the University of St Andrews.

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