The bipolarity of Alberto Santos-Dumont: flights and falls of the “Father of Aviation”

A bipolaridade de Alberto Santos-Dumont: os voos e as quedas do “Pai da Aviação”

Elie Cheniaux About the author

ABSTRACT

Objective:

Discussing the psychiatric diagnosis of Alberto Santos-Dumont, considered in Brazil to be the inventor of the airplane, who was admitted to psychiatric institutions several times and committed suicide.

Methods:

A narrative review was carried out on the psychopathological manifestations he presented, based on some of the most important biographies about the aviator. No scientific article on the topic was found.

Results:

Depressive episodes were well characterized. Behavioral changes that suggest manic episodes have also been reported.

Conclusion:

He probably suffered from bipolar disorder.

KEYWORDS
Santos-Dumont; biography; history of psychiatry; bipolar disorder

RESUMO

Objetivo:

Discutir o diagnóstico psiquiátrico de Alberto Santos-Dumont, considerado no Brasil o inventor do avião, que foi diversas vezes internado em instituições psiquiátricas e cometeu suicídio.

Métodos:

Foi realizada uma revisão narrativa sobre as manifestações psicopatológicas que ele apresentou, com base em algumas das mais importantes biografias sobre o aviador. Nenhum artigo científico sobre o tema foi encontrado.

Resultados:

Episódios depressivos ficaram bem caracterizados. Foram relatadas ainda alterações do comportamento que sugerem episódios maníacos.

Conclusão:

Provavelmente ele sofria de transtorno bipolar.

PALAVRAS-CHAVE
Santos-Dumont; biografia; história da psiquiatria; transtorno bipolar

INTRODUCTION

Alberto Santos-Dumont (ASD) is one of the great national heroes of Brazil. In this country, he is considered the inventor of the airplane, a merit that, however, in the rest of the world, is attributed to the Wright brothers, from the United States11 Drumond CD. Alberto Santos-Dumont: novas revelações. São Paulo: Editora de Cultura; 2009. . The history of ASD’s mental illness is little known, and much information about it, deliberately or not, has been distorted. For example, when he killed himself, a fake was mounted, and the coroner, on the death certificate, fraudulently, pointed out “cardiac collapse” as the cause of death22 Hoffman P. Asas da loucura: a extraordinária vida de Santos-Dumont. Rio de Janeiro: Objetiva; 2003. . In addition, ASD’s behavioral changes were attributed exclusively to a neurological disease, multiple sclerosis, and his depression was seen as a mere emotional reaction to the use of the airplane as a weapon in the First World War and the Constitutionalist Revolution of the Brazil33 Jorge F. As lutas, a glória e o martírio de Santos Dumont. Nova York: HarperCollins Brasil; 2018. .

METHODS

A narrative review was carried out on the psychopathological manifestations that ASD presented. The objective was to discuss whether he actually suffered from a mental disorder and what his psychiatric diagnosis would be. No scientific article on the topic was found in the researched databases: PubMed, Web of Science, SciELO and PsycINFO. Thus, the sources of the information obtained were some of the main ASD biographies.

RESULTS

Origins

The chronology of the ASD clinical case is summarized in table 1 .

Table 1
Chronology of the Santos-Dumont clinical case

ASD was born on July 20, 1873, in Minas Gerais, in the city of Cabangu, which would later be called “Santos Dumont”33 Jorge F. As lutas, a glória e o martírio de Santos Dumont. Nova York: HarperCollins Brasil; 2018. . He was the sixth child in an offspring of eight and the youngest of the three boys. The family had moved there because his father, engineer Henrique Dumont, had been hired to work on the construction of an extension of the Pedro II railway in the region. When ASD was six years old, his father buys a farm in São Paulo, where he begins to grow coffee. He mechanizes the entire production and, in a short time, he becomes rich, being nicknamed by the press “king of the coffee”22 Hoffman P. Asas da loucura: a extraordinária vida de Santos-Dumont. Rio de Janeiro: Objetiva; 2003. .

ASD, still a child, is interested in mechanics and learns to repair agricultural machinery. At the age of seven, he drives steam engines on wheels to transport coffee. At twelve, he guides the locomotive of a train used for the distribution of grain. At eighteen, he brings to Brazil a Peugeot car, bought in Paris, and becomes the first person to drive a car in South America22 Hoffman P. Asas da loucura: a extraordinária vida de Santos-Dumont. Rio de Janeiro: Objetiva; 2003. .

A reader of Jules Verne, from a young age ASD was fascinated by science fiction and believed that one day man could fly. At the age of ten, he made paper balloons, which he filled with hot air from the stove22 Hoffman P. Asas da loucura: a extraordinária vida de Santos-Dumont. Rio de Janeiro: Objetiva; 2003. .

In 1892, when ASD was 19 years old, his father suffered a fall from a horse, hit his head and became irreversibly hemiplegic. Disabled for work, he sells his farm and donates his inheritance to his children in life. ASD receives the equivalent of half a million dollars and is sent to Paris, where he should study mechanics, without worrying about guaranteeing his own livelihood22 Hoffman P. Asas da loucura: a extraordinária vida de Santos-Dumont. Rio de Janeiro: Objetiva; 2003. , 44 Demartini Z, Gatto LAM, Lages RO, Koppe GL. Henrique Dumont: How a traumatic brain injury contributed to the development of the airplane. Arq Neuropsiquiatr. 2019;77(1):60-2. .

Exploits, celebrity and forgetting

In Paris, in 1898, at the age of 24, ASD builds his first balloon, to which he gives the name of Brazil . That same year, he began to create airships, which were hydrogen balloons attached to an engine. In October 1901, with his airship number 6, he won the Deutsch prize, fulfilling the requirement to fly the balloon for eleven kilometers, get around the Eiffel tower and return to the starting point in thirty minutes55 Nunhez R. Nas alturas: uma biografia de Santos-Dumont. Sem editora; 2014. . In 1903, he built the number 9 airship, called Baladeuse , considered the first aerial car in the world. ASD uses it daily to visit friends, go to restaurants and shop22 Hoffman P. Asas da loucura: a extraordinária vida de Santos-Dumont. Rio de Janeiro: Objetiva; 2003. .

His greatest invention, without a doubt, was the 14-Bis, an aircraft, which, in 1906, travels a distance of 220 meters, at a height of six meters, for 21.02 seconds. This flight represents the first of a heavier-than-air machine in a public display. The 14-Bis gives ASD, at the age of 33, the award of the French aeroclub and consecrates him, at least at first, as the inventor of the airplane22 Hoffman P. Asas da loucura: a extraordinária vida de Santos-Dumont. Rio de Janeiro: Objetiva; 2003. , 55 Nunhez R. Nas alturas: uma biografia de Santos-Dumont. Sem editora; 2014. .

Another important invention by ASD was the Demoiselle , the number 20, which was the first sports airplane in the world. The device, created in 1909, set a new speed record and achieved commercial success, with more than fifty units produced22 Hoffman P. Asas da loucura: a extraordinária vida de Santos-Dumont. Rio de Janeiro: Objetiva; 2003. , 55 Nunhez R. Nas alturas: uma biografia de Santos-Dumont. Sem editora; 2014. .

The exploits of ASD made him world famous in the early years of the 20th century. Proof of his enormous prestige is that, in Paris, they were among his regular dinner partners and close friends: Louis Cartier, the jeweler; Princess Isabel, daughter of D. Pedro II; Gustave Eiffel, the tower architect; Antônio Prado Jr., son of a Brazilian ambassador; members of the Rothschild family of bankers; Empress Eugênia, a reclusive widow of Napoleon III; plus some kings, queens, dukes and duchesses22 Hoffman P. Asas da loucura: a extraordinária vida de Santos-Dumont. Rio de Janeiro: Objetiva; 2003. .

The situation, however, changes with the arrival of the brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright, from the United States, in 1907. They refer that, in North Carolina, in 1903, therefore three years before ASD, they had already flown with a machine heavier than air, the Flyer . They had worked in secret, and there was no verification of that flight by any accredited entity. In 1908, they went to France, where they demonstrated their aircraft, and in a short time, they ended up being recognized internationally as the true inventors of the airplane11 Drumond CD. Alberto Santos-Dumont: novas revelações. São Paulo: Editora de Cultura; 2009. , 22 Hoffman P. Asas da loucura: a extraordinária vida de Santos-Dumont. Rio de Janeiro: Objetiva; 2003. . However, even today the primacy of Americans is contested in Brazil, with the claim that the Flyer needed the help of rails and a catapult to take off, unlike the 14-Bis, which took flight by its own means33 Jorge F. As lutas, a glória e o martírio de Santos Dumont. Nova York: HarperCollins Brasil; 2018. .

Uncrowned by the Wright brothers, ASD complains about his friends, who, according to him, would have abandoned him. “It was, now I can say,” he would write later, “a painful experience for me to see – after all my work with airships and machines heavier than air - the ingratitude of those who recently covered me with glory”22 Hoffman P. Asas da loucura: a extraordinária vida de Santos-Dumont. Rio de Janeiro: Objetiva; 2003. .

Appearance and personality

ASD was a very slight man: his height was 1.52 meter, and his weight varied around 50 kilos33 Jorge F. As lutas, a glória e o martírio de Santos Dumont. Nova York: HarperCollins Brasil; 2018. . He tried to disguise his short stature with his clothes: dark suits with vertical stripes, heels, high collars, a very tight tie knot, trousers rolled up at the hem and somewhat short22 Hoffman P. Asas da loucura: a extraordinária vida de Santos-Dumont. Rio de Janeiro: Objetiva; 2003. , 33 Jorge F. As lutas, a glória e o martírio de Santos Dumont. Nova York: HarperCollins Brasil; 2018. . All of this, added to the Panama hat, gave him an elegant but at the same time extravagant appearance22 Hoffman P. Asas da loucura: a extraordinária vida de Santos-Dumont. Rio de Janeiro: Objetiva; 2003. .

Fame and glory were the motivation for their achievements. ASD had no financial interests: he did not register the patents for his inventions and donated all the prizes he received. He was very concerned with his public image and took great pleasure in showing off, especially on his flights22 Hoffman P. Asas da loucura: a extraordinária vida de Santos-Dumont. Rio de Janeiro: Objetiva; 2003. . Paradoxically, he was very shy. In childhood, he was described as lonely and dreamer. In adulthood, at social gatherings, even with his family, he almost never opened his mouth. He had an intense fear of speaking in public22 Hoffman P. Asas da loucura: a extraordinária vida de Santos-Dumont. Rio de Janeiro: Objetiva; 2003. , 33 Jorge F. As lutas, a glória e o martírio de Santos Dumont. Nova York: HarperCollins Brasil; 2018. .

ASD never married or publicly assumed a romantic relationship. One of his biographers22 Hoffman P. Asas da loucura: a extraordinária vida de Santos-Dumont. Rio de Janeiro: Objetiva; 2003. believes that he was a homosexual. In childhood, he was not interested in the games and activities more typically of boys with their siblings. His voice and clothes were described by journalists as unmanly. In addition, he liked to embroider, to knit and to practice tapestry, habits traditionally more linked to the feminine sex. Another biographer11 Drumond CD. Alberto Santos-Dumont: novas revelações. São Paulo: Editora de Cultura; 2009. , in contrast, claims that he was a womanizer, as he was often seen in public situations in the company of beautiful young women and because of the references to love affairs with women in some letters he wrote to friends.

Depression and suicide

There is a lack of information about ASD’s mental illness, because at one point he burned many letters and documents33 Jorge F. As lutas, a glória e o martírio de Santos Dumont. Nova York: HarperCollins Brasil; 2018. . In addition, the clinics he checked into did not keep medical records22 Hoffman P. Asas da loucura: a extraordinária vida de Santos-Dumont. Rio de Janeiro: Objetiva; 2003. . However, some information about what happened to him was provided by people around him and by the press of the time.

In 1910, at the age of 36, ASD decides to abandon aviation. Complaining of double vision and dizziness, he consults a doctor, who would have formulated the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis33 Jorge F. As lutas, a glória e o martírio de Santos Dumont. Nova York: HarperCollins Brasil; 2018. . However, this diagnosis would later be challenged by several doctors, who believed that ASD was already presenting psychiatric manifestations22 Hoffman P. Asas da loucura: a extraordinária vida de Santos-Dumont. Rio de Janeiro: Objetiva; 2003. . In fact, at that time, he, feeling exhausted, stays at home, totally isolated33 Jorge F. As lutas, a glória e o martírio de Santos Dumont. Nova York: HarperCollins Brasil; 2018. . A few years later, during the First World War, he said he felt guilty for using the airplane as a war weapon: “More infamous than the Devil”, he would have said about himself22 Hoffman P. Asas da loucura: a extraordinária vida de Santos-Dumont. Rio de Janeiro: Objetiva; 2003. .

In the 1920s, ASD was admitted to psychiatric clinics in Europe several times: at the Préville sanatorium, in Orthez, France; and the Valmont-sur-Territet sanatorium in Glion, Switzerland55 Nunhez R. Nas alturas: uma biografia de Santos-Dumont. Sem editora; 2014. . There are reports that he presented loss of appetite, lack of strength22 Hoffman P. Asas da loucura: a extraordinária vida de Santos-Dumont. Rio de Janeiro: Objetiva; 2003. , sadness and hopelessness55 Nunhez R. Nas alturas: uma biografia de Santos-Dumont. Sem editora; 2014. . In Brazil, the aviator consulted with two of the most eminent Brazilian psychiatrists: Juliano Moreira, in 1925, and Henrique Roxo, in 192711 Drumond CD. Alberto Santos-Dumont: novas revelações. São Paulo: Editora de Cultura; 2009. , 66 Viegas L. Santos Dumont [Internet]. Globo.com. Available from: http://especiais.santosdumont.eptv.g1.globo.com/
http://especiais.santosdumont.eptv.g1.gl...
. In 1927, he was removed by his nephew Jorge Dumont-Villares from the clinic in Switzerland, after a long hospitalization. In 1928, on his return to Brazil, he witnessed the death of twelve intellectuals and scientists who came to greet him on board an exploded seaplane. In the following weeks, he is locked up at the Copacabana Palace hotel, from where he only leaves to attend the funerals of the victims of the accident22 Hoffman P. Asas da loucura: a extraordinária vida de Santos-Dumont. Rio de Janeiro: Objetiva; 2003. .

In 1930, in Paris, ASD stops eating and talking and locks himself in his room. He is then readmitted to Orthez and, at the clinic, feels discouraged and attempts suicide with medication11 Drumond CD. Alberto Santos-Dumont: novas revelações. São Paulo: Editora de Cultura; 2009. . In 1931, another hospitalization, now in the Biarritz sanatorium, also in France55 Nunhez R. Nas alturas: uma biografia de Santos-Dumont. Sem editora; 2014. . That same year, Jorge again takes him out of the clinic, taking him back to Brazil, aboard the Lutetia steamboat. During the trip, ASD attempts suicide again, being saved by his nephew77 Garbin L. Especial Santos-Dumont [Internet]. Estadão. Available from: https://infograficos.estadao.com.br/especiais/a-redescoberta-de-santos-dumont/
https://infograficos.estadao.com.br/espe...
.

In 1932, ASD returned to express remorse due to the use of the airplane as a weapon of war, this time in Brazil, during the Constitutionalist Revolution: “I invented a disgrace for the world”, he complained11 Drumond CD. Alberto Santos-Dumont: novas revelações. São Paulo: Editora de Cultura; 2009. . At the suggestion of the doctor who was then assisting him, Dr. Sinésio Rangel Pestana, he will spend a season in the spa of Guarujá, in São Paulo, in the company of his nephew Jorge. In that city, on July 23 of the same year, he commits suicide. His body, extremely emaciated, is found hanging around his neck with two ties on the shower pipe in his room at the Grande Hotel La Plage. He was 59 years old33 Jorge F. As lutas, a glória e o martírio de Santos Dumont. Nova York: HarperCollins Brasil; 2018. , 55 Nunhez R. Nas alturas: uma biografia de Santos-Dumont. Sem editora; 2014. .

His mother had also killed herself, in 1902, in Portugal22 Hoffman P. Asas da loucura: a extraordinária vida de Santos-Dumont. Rio de Janeiro: Objetiva; 2003. .

Other possible psychiatric manifestations

According to a survey carried out in 1899, until that year almost two hundred people had died in accidents with balloons22 Hoffman P. Asas da loucura: a extraordinária vida de Santos-Dumont. Rio de Janeiro: Objetiva; 2003. . Thus, the risks to which ASD underwent testing the flying machines he invented are very striking. In fact, he suffered several accidents, although he was never seriously injured. On several occasions he was seen, in mid-flight on an airship, coming out of the basket to fix a defect in the engine or cables. Once, his number 5 hit the roof of the Trocadero hotel in Paris. The balloon exploded, producing a frightening sound, and the aviator hung by a cable on the hotel’s wall, at a height of fifteen meters, until it was lifted by the firemen with a rope to the ceiling. The amazing thing is that, in these situations, ASD did not express any fear and, often, right after the fall, he returned to work on the damaged device22 Hoffman P. Asas da loucura: a extraordinária vida de Santos-Dumont. Rio de Janeiro: Objetiva; 2003. , 33 Jorge F. As lutas, a glória e o martírio de Santos Dumont. Nova York: HarperCollins Brasil; 2018. .

Over the years, in periods when he did not seem to be depressed, ASD had several times exhibited behaviors considered inappropriate or surprising by those who witnessed them. Three episodes of this nature occur in 1916. The first was in January, at the Pan American Scientific Congress, held in the United States. During the event, the aviator, who had always been a militant pacifist, defends the use of the airplane as a weapon of war33 Jorge F. As lutas, a glória e o martírio de Santos Dumont. Nova York: HarperCollins Brasil; 2018. , what he would do again in his book entitled O que eu vi, o que nós veremos 88 Santos-Dumont A. O que eu vi, o que nós veremos. São Bernardo do Campo: KZK; 2014. . In March of the same year, now at the Pan American Aeronautical Congress, in Chile, Brazilian diplomat Luís Gurgel do Amaral shocks when, unexpectedly, he asks the following question, referring to prostitutes: “Amaral, how are we here when it comes to little women?”33 Jorge F. As lutas, a glória e o martírio de Santos Dumont. Nova York: HarperCollins Brasil; 2018. . And, in April 1916, at Iguaçu Falls, he balances himself on a log on the edge of an abyss – the place is called “Garganta do Diabo” [“Devil’s Throat”]. People around despair, but ASD seems to be extremely calm11 Drumond CD. Alberto Santos-Dumont: novas revelações. São Paulo: Editora de Cultura; 2009. . Years later, at a time when he resides in the city of Petrópolis, the inventor occasionally confides in young people who casually finds on the streets his “adventures in the cabarets of Paris”33 Jorge F. As lutas, a glória e o martírio de Santos Dumont. Nova York: HarperCollins Brasil; 2018. . Finally, in 1926, in France, he paid a visit to Gabriel Voisin, his collaborator in the creation of 14-Bis, in which he asked to marry his daughter, although he barely knew her and she was more than thirty years younger than him22 Hoffman P. Asas da loucura: a extraordinária vida de Santos-Dumont. Rio de Janeiro: Objetiva; 2003. .

Some reports about ASD more clearly indicate the presence of changes in mood and motor activity. One of his biographers33 Jorge F. As lutas, a glória e o martírio de Santos Dumont. Nova York: HarperCollins Brasil; 2018. , when talking about worsening aviator’s disease, brings the following information: “... he became increasingly restless, nervous, agitated, unstable. He lived in constant motion, always traveling. Anything annoyed him, even the smallest noise”. Yolanda Penteado, lady of the São Paulo society who was a friend of ASD, in turn, makes this observation about him: “People who knew him better said that when he saw me, he would get electric. He walked a lot. He was mountain climbing, and when I met him he used to walk up and down Corcovado Hill on foot”33 Jorge F. As lutas, a glória e o martírio de Santos Dumont. Nova York: HarperCollins Brasil; 2018. . In 1916, when he visited the Iguaçu Falls, ASD decided to seek the president of the state of Paraná to suggest that the area be expropriated and transformed into a public park. To go from Foz do Iguaçu to Curitiba, he rides for six days in a row, covering more than three hundred kilometers of virgin forest, and then he still takes a car and a train77 Garbin L. Especial Santos-Dumont [Internet]. Estadão. Available from: https://infograficos.estadao.com.br/especiais/a-redescoberta-de-santos-dumont/
https://infograficos.estadao.com.br/espe...
. Finally, the description of how he was disembarking from a ship in Rio de Janeiro, coming from Europe, after a trip during which he had attempted suicide, is quite significant: “The journalists, as the others had already done on board, realized that the inventor was not the same withdrawn and discreet as always. He spoke, he was agitated, he was showing off. He wanted everyone to see and gawk”33 Jorge F. As lutas, a glória e o martírio de Santos Dumont. Nova York: HarperCollins Brasil; 2018. .

After abandoning aviation, ASD is dedicated to other inventions. These inventions are said to be bizarre and appear to be the expression of a mental disorder. In the 1920s, during a hospitalization, he tries to fly with feathers glued to his arms and with mechanical wings attached to an engine that is inside a backpack hanging on his back. When he goes to jump out the window, he is saved by a nurse22 Hoffman P. Asas da loucura: a extraordinária vida de Santos-Dumont. Rio de Janeiro: Objetiva; 2003. . Other strange creations of his were: the Martian transformer, in 1928, in which a propeller placed on skiers’ backs would help them climb snow-covered mountains33 Jorge F. As lutas, a glória e o martírio de Santos Dumont. Nova York: HarperCollins Brasil; 2018. ; a slingshot capable of launching a life jacket for a drowning person in the 1920s; a mechanism that dragged a snack in front of dogs in races, also in the 1920s22 Hoffman P. Asas da loucura: a extraordinária vida de Santos-Dumont. Rio de Janeiro: Objetiva; 2003. ; and an individual flying device, tied to the back, in 193133 Jorge F. As lutas, a glória e o martírio de Santos Dumont. Nova York: HarperCollins Brasil; 2018. .

DISCUSSION

Undoubtedly, formulating an individual’s psychiatric diagnosis without examining him directly and based only on biographies about him has very limited value, especially when that individual is ASD. Firstly, because medical records about his case are very scarce. Furthermore, it is very likely that much information was deliberately hidden, since, in the case of a national hero, it would be detrimental to his image to associate it with something so stigmatized in society as a mental illness. The fraud in the elaboration of his death certificate, so that it was not known that he had committed suicide, supports this speculation. Although recent biographies of the aviator have been consulted, none of them presented new information about his mental illness. However, based on the available reports on the life and behavior of ASD, it is possible to carry out a semiological and nosological exercise on his mental illness. This exercise, despite being merely speculative, would have a didactic or, at least, playful character.

Previously, it had been hypothesized that ASD have presented episodes of depression with psychotic symptoms99 Barros REM. Did the “Father of Aviation” have his wings clipped by depression? Rev Bras Psiquiatr. 2013;35(2):208-9. . In fact, it seems clear that he had, since he was 36 years old, several depressive symptoms. Prostration, discouragement, sadness, hopelessness, social isolation, mutism, anorexia, extreme weight loss, feeling of guilt and suicide attempts, all typical of depression, are mentioned1010 Goodwin FK, Jamison KR. Doença maníaco-depressiva: transtorno bipolar e depressão recorrente. 2ª ed. Porto Alegre: Artmed; 2010. . From a clinical point of view, it makes no sense to attribute this picture to the use of the airplane as a weapon. ASD fell ill in 1910, therefore, four years before the beginning of the First World War. Guilt ideas, sometimes delusional ones, are common in depression1010 Goodwin FK, Jamison KR. Doença maníaco-depressiva: transtorno bipolar e depressão recorrente. 2ª ed. Porto Alegre: Artmed; 2010. . Thus, the regrets he felt for inventing the airplane are probably symptoms of his illness and not its cause. In addition, as we have seen, the primacy of ASD over the first flight of a machine heavier than air was no longer widely accepted in 1910.

ASD’s depression apparently had an episodic course. According to current classificatory systems in psychiatry, given the occurrence of recurrent depressive episodes, the doubt as to the nosological diagnosis lies between bipolar disorder, when there were also manic or hypomanic episodes, and major depressive disorder, when manic or hypomanic episodes are absent1111 American Psychiatric Association. DSM-5: Manual Diagnóstico e Estatístico de Transtornos Mentais. 5ª ed. Porto Alegre: Artmed; 2014. .

There are several indications that ASD suffered from bipolar disorder. As already mentioned, on several occasions he experienced euphoria, irritability, increased motor activity, disinhibition and inappropriate behavior, which are typical symptoms of manic syndrome1212 Cheniaux E, Filgueiras A, Silva RDAD, Silveira LAS, Nunes ALS, Landeira-Fernandez J. Increased energy/activity, not mood changes, is the core feature of mania. J Affect Disord. 2014;152-154:256-61. . The risks in which he placed himself flying at great heights aboard his inventions may well be the expression of the courage and heroism of ASD. However, it must not be forgotten that the absence of fear and excessive self-confidence are clinical manifestations observed in mania. Finally, his latest inventions, considered bizarre, could be explained by a loss of critical ability, which also occurs in manic syndrome1010 Goodwin FK, Jamison KR. Doença maníaco-depressiva: transtorno bipolar e depressão recorrente. 2ª ed. Porto Alegre: Artmed; 2010. .

DSM-51111 American Psychiatric Association. DSM-5: Manual Diagnóstico e Estatístico de Transtornos Mentais. 5ª ed. Porto Alegre: Artmed; 2014. subdivides bipolar disorder into two types: in type 1, there was at least one episode of mania; and, in type 2, there were episodes of hypomania and depression. Since episodes of depression may be absent in type 1, in practice the occurrence of episodes of mania or hypomania is what defines bipolar disorder in DSM-5. The symptoms of mania and hypomania are the same, the distinction between the two syndromes is made based on the intensity of symptoms and the severity of psychosocial impairment. It is unclear whether ASD would have suffered from type 1 or type 2 bipolar disorder, but he would likely meet the diagnostic criteria of a manic or hypomanic episode. Surely, he presented the two mandatory changes according to DSM-5: elevation of mood and increase in motor activity. In addition, other symptoms listed in the classification were described: grandiosity, pressure to speak, agitation and excessive involvement in potentially dangerous activities.

Regarding the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, it can be said that it is quite doubtful99 Barros REM. Did the “Father of Aviation” have his wings clipped by depression? Rev Bras Psiquiatr. 2013;35(2):208-9. . In this autoimmune inflammatory disease of the central nervous system1313 Silveira C, Guedes R, Maia D, Curral R, Coelho R. Neuropsychiatric symptoms of multiple sclerosis: State of the art. Psychiatry Investig. 2019;16(12):877-88. , in fact, double vision and vertigo may occur1414 Politte LC, Huffman JC, Stern TA. Rounds in the General Hospital: Neuropsychiatric Manifestations of Multiple Sclerosis. Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry. 2008;10(4):318-24. . However, these were the only two symptoms of multiple sclerosis that ASD would have presented, which, in addition, are nonspecific. On the other hand, this neurological disease is associated with high rates of comorbidity with mental disorders: for example, 23.7% have depression; and 5.83%, bipolar disorder1515 Marrie RA, Reingold S, Cohen J, Stuve O, Trojano M, Sorensen PS, et al. The incidence and prevalence of psychiatric disorders in multiple sclerosis: A systematic review. Mult Scler J. 2015;21(3):305-17. .

ASD’s mental illness had a tragic outcome: he killed himself at 59. Among mental disorders, bipolar disorder is the one that is most associated with suicide, especially during depressive and mixed episodes1616 Lage RR, Santana CMT, Nardi AE, Cheniaux E. Mixed states and suicidal behavior: a systematic review. Trends Psychiatry Psychother. 2019;41(2):191-200. . Family history of suicide is among the risk factors for suicide1010 Goodwin FK, Jamison KR. Doença maníaco-depressiva: transtorno bipolar e depressão recorrente. 2ª ed. Porto Alegre: Artmed; 2010. , and, as mentioned, the aviator’s mother had also taken her own life.

ASD, like all inventors, had a high creative capacity. There seems to be a relationship between bipolar disorder and creativity. In the study of the biographies of great artists, descriptions of what appear to be depressive and manic episodes, as well as suicides, are often found. When modern diagnostic criteria are applied in interviews with living artists, high rates of bipolar disorder are detected. In the evaluation of individuals with bipolar disorder, high levels of creativity are observed, higher than in those with other mental disorders. Finally, there are many similarities between creative behavior and manic or hypomanic states, which include increased activity, self-confidence, impulsiveness, excitement and accelerated thinking1717 Johnson SL, Murray G, Fredrickson B, Youngstrom EA, Hinshaw S, Bass JM, et al. Creativity and bipolar disorder: Touched by fire or burning with questions? Clin Psychol Rev. 2012;32(1):1-12. .

CONCLUSIONS

In the biographies about ASD, very typical depressive episodes were described. In addition, reports of increased mood and increased energy indicate that he also had manic symptoms. So it seems likely that he suffered from bipolar disorder.

REFERENCES

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    Drumond CD. Alberto Santos-Dumont: novas revelações. São Paulo: Editora de Cultura; 2009.
  • 2
    Hoffman P. Asas da loucura: a extraordinária vida de Santos-Dumont. Rio de Janeiro: Objetiva; 2003.
  • 3
    Jorge F. As lutas, a glória e o martírio de Santos Dumont. Nova York: HarperCollins Brasil; 2018.
  • 4
    Demartini Z, Gatto LAM, Lages RO, Koppe GL. Henrique Dumont: How a traumatic brain injury contributed to the development of the airplane. Arq Neuropsiquiatr. 2019;77(1):60-2.
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    Nunhez R. Nas alturas: uma biografia de Santos-Dumont. Sem editora; 2014.
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Publication Dates

  • Publication in this collection
    21 Feb 2022
  • Date of issue
    Jan-Mar 2022

History

  • Received
    12 June 2021
  • Accepted
    04 Dec 2021
Instituto de Psiquiatria da Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro Av. Venceslau Brás, 71 Fundos, 22295-140 Rio de Janeiro - RJ Brasil, Tel./Fax: (55 21) 3873-5510 - Rio de Janeiro - RJ - Brazil
E-mail: editora@ipub.ufrj.br