Ernest Hemingway wrote some of his popular novels, including To Have and Have Not, in the study of his Key West Florida home.
The house, on the National Register of Historic Places, has been preserved as it was when he and his wife Pauline lived there and is open to visitors, like myself, when I visited there a couple of years ago.
This entire house, and especially the narrative of his life (as related to us by our verbose tour guide) is itself a study of a man whose life and career was largely shaped by mental illness.
Ernest Hemingway displayed mood swings and abused drugs and alcohol. Despite numerous psychiatric hospital stays where he was treated with ECT, electroconvulsive therapy, he struggled with chronic depression.
He died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head in 1961.
While dealing with mental illness and traumatic brain injuries, he continued to write prolifically and successfully, winning the Nobel Prize for literature in 1954 for The Old Man and the Sea.
He wrote acclaimed novels, several of which became major movies. His personal life was not so successful; three of his four marriages ended in divorce.
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The challenge of mental illness
Mental illness often runs in families. Ernest’s father, Dr. Clarence Hemingway, a gynecologist, suffered from manic-depression and died by suicide. Ernest and his siblings likely inherited it from their father.
Sadly, it did not end with him. His granddaughter, Margaux Hemingway, a fashion model and actress, dealt with depression, alcoholism, and bulimia.
She died from an apparent intentional drug overdose at age 42.
“A lonely life”
Ernest Hemingway could not attend the ceremony to receive his Nobel Prize. He wrote a short speech which was read by John C. Cabot, the Ambassador to Sweden. In that speech he wrote,
“Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.”
At least 40 to 50 cats live on the grounds of the Hemingway House; many of them are descendants of Ernest Hemingway’s cats. They live peaceful, serene lives, far different from the people who lived there long ago.
What you should know about suicide from the NIH: National Institute of Mental Health
- Suicide is the tenth most common cause of death in the United States.
- People may consider suicide when they are hopeless and can’t see any other solution to their problems.
- Suicide may occur with serious depression, alcohol or substance abuse, or a major stressful event.
- People who have the highest risk of suicide are white men.
- Women and teens report more suicide attempts.
- Therapy and medicines can help most people who have suicidal thoughts. Treating mental illnesses and substance abuse can reduce the risk of suicide.
- If someone talks about suicide, you should take it seriously.
- Urge them to get help from their doctor or the emergency room, or call the
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at
It is available 24/7.
Understanding mental illness
I hope you will use the following links to resources to help you, your family, or anyone you know who does or may suffer from mental illness. There is help and most importantly, there is hope.
“Major mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder rarely appear “out of the blue.” Most often family, friends, teachers or individuals themselves begin to recognize small changes or a feeling that “something is not quite right” about their thinking, feelings or behavior before one of these illnesses appears in its full-blown form.”
“Excitement about the huge range of opportunities has led to a burst of app development. There are thousands of mental health apps available in iTunes and Android app stores, and the number is growing every year. However, this new technology frontier includes a lot of uncertainty. There is very little industry regulation and very little information on app effectiveness, which can lead consumers to wonder which apps they should trust.” (affiliate link used)
“The most important thing to remember about suicidal thoughts is that they are symptoms of a treatable illness associated with fluctuations in the body’s and brain’s chemistry. They are not character flaws or signs of personal weakness, nor are they conditions that will just go away on their own. “
Thanks for joining me to tour the unique home of Ernest Hemingway, using photos I took myself.
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