About the project

Titled ‘”Melancholy and low spirits are half my disease”: Physical and mental health in the life and works of Robert Burns’, the project officially started in October 2015 after nearly 2 years of planning.

The project consists of two main sections and will take about four years to complete. The first section will examine the personal writing of Burns – his letters, journals and notebooks – looking at the evidence which relates to his physical and mental health. The team is particularly interested in exploring the theory that Burns suffered from depression or bipolar disorder (manic depression).

Armed with this better understanding of Burns’s mental health, the second section will explore the impact on Burns’s wider life. We’ll look at his wider life – his physical health, friendships and relationships – for evidence of his mental health having an effect on these (and these having an effect on his mental health). We’ll also be analysing 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. It will also add to the wider understanding of the interplay between mental health and creativity, and to the destigmatisation of mental health disorders.

The Team

The team involved in the project consists of three people, each with different roles:

Moira Hansen
Moira will the principal researcher working on the project as the basis of her PhD at the University of Glasgow. She is a graduate of Dundee University (2002: BSc (Hons)Pharmacology) and The Open University (2008: BA (Hons) English Language and Literature; 2015: MA (Merit) English) and Aberdeen University (2009: PGDE Secondary English). She looks forward to bringing together her experience in science and humanities to explore this previously-neglected aspect of Burns’s life, and to sharing her work with you through this blog.
Moira is generously funded by the University of Glasgow’s Kelvin Smith scholarship scheme.

Professor Gerard Carruthers
Gerry holds the Francis Hutcheson Chair of Scottish Literature at University of Glasgow. He is also co-director of the Centre for Robert Burns Studies and general editor of the ‘Editing Robert Burns for the 21st Century‘ project, which is producing the Oxford University Press multi-volume edition of Robert Burns’s work . Recognised as an expert in the field of Burns studies and Scottish Literature, Gerry will provide supervisory support for the literary aspects of the project. More information on Gerry’s work and research interests can be found on his university page.

Professor Daniel Smith
Danny is a professor of Psychiatry and honorary Consultant Psychiatrist at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde. His work principally focuses on bipolar disorder – risk factors, diagnosis and treatment, links with intelligence and creativity, and links with cardiovascular disease. Danny’s expertise in bipolar disorder will provide the supervisory support for the psychiatric aspects of the project. More information on Danny’s work can be found on his university page.