Kay Redfield Jamison (born June 22, 1946) is an American clinical psychologist and writer who is one of the foremost experts on bipolar disorder as well as suffering from the disorder since her early adulthood. 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.
Jamison began her study of clinical psychology at University of California, Los Angeles in the late 1960s, receiving both B.A. and M.A. degrees in 1971. She continued on at UCLA, receiving a Ph.D. in 1975, and became a faculty member at the university. She went on to found and direct the school's Affective Disorders Clinic, a large teaching and research facility for outpatient treatment. She also took sabbatical leave to study zoology and neurophysiology at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
It was during her time at UCLA that Jamison's manic-depression took serious hold of her life and helped determine her career path. Jamison would go on to discover a family history of manic-depression on her father's side, who himself was a likely sufferer of the illness. While a member of the psychiatry department at UCLA and under treatment for her illness, Jamison attempted suicide by taking an overdose of lithium. She had miscalculated the lethal dose, so the attempt failed.
After several years as a tenured professor at UCLA, Jamison was offered a tenured post as Professor of Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, perhaps the first time such a post had been offered to a psychologist. Jamison has given visiting lectures at a number of different institutions while maintaining her professorship at Hopkins. She was distinguished lecturer at Harvard University in 2002 and the Litchfield lecturer at the University of Oxford in 2003.
Throughout Jamison's career she has won numerous awards and published over one hundred academic articles. She has been named one of the "Best Doctors in the United States" and was chosen by Time as a "Hero of Medicine." She was also chosen as one of the five individuals for the public television series "Great Minds of Medicine." Jamison is the recipient of the National Mental Health Association's William Styron Award (1995), the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Research Award (1996), the Community Mental Health Leadership Award (1999), and was a 2001 MacArthur Fellowship recipient.
In 2010 Jamison was conferred with an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters from the University of St Andrews in recognition of all her life's work. St Andrews 2010 Graduation: Laureation Addresses
Her book Manic-Depressive Illness (co-authored with Frederick K. Goodwin) is the classic textbook on bipolar disorder.
Her seminal works among laypeople are her memoir An Unquiet Mind, which details her experience with severe mania and depression, and Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide, providing historical, religious, and cultural responses to suicide, as well as the relationship between mental illness and suicide. In Night Falls Fast, Jamison dedicates a chapter to American public policy and public opinion as it relates to suicide. Her second memoir, Nothing Was the Same, examines her relationship with her second husband, the psychiatrist Richard Jed Wyatt, who was Chief of the Neuropsychiatry Branchof the National Institute of Mental Health until his recent death.
In her study 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.
Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament is Jamison's exploration of how bipolar disorder can run in artistic or high-achieving families. As an example, she cites Lord Byron and his relatives.
Jamison, in an interview, said she was an "exuberant" person, 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 memoir 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 an Episcopalian and was married to Dr. Richard Wyatt until his death in 2002.