Skip to main content

The Mystery of Edith Bouvier Beale's Mental Health

Edith Bouvier Beale, commonly known as "Little Edie," was an American socialite and cousin of former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. In this article, we explore the life of Edith Bouvier Beale, an enigmatic figure whose struggles with mental health captivated public attention. From her affluent upbringing to her seclusion in "Grey Gardens," we delve into the complexities of Edith Bouvier Beale's mental health journey.

Edith Bouvier Beale's Mental Health: What We Know (and Don't Know)

In the realm of intriguing personalities, Edith Bouvier Beale stands out as a complex figure whose life was marked by both glamour and obscurity. While her name might not ring a bell for everyone, her captivating journey, marred by mental health struggles, has left an indelible mark.

Let us delve into the life of Edith Bouvier Beale, exploring her early days, her rise to stardom, her decline into isolation, and the profound impact of mental health challenges on her life.

grey gardens mental illness
Part of the theatrical release poster for the 1975 documentary film Grey Gardens. The poster features a photograph of Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale outside her derelict Grey Gardens estate. (source: Wikipedia)

The Background of Edith Bouvier Beale

Edith Bouvier Beale (nicknamed Little Edie) was born on November 7, 1917, into a prominent American family. Her mother, Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale, and her father, Phelan Beale, belonged to a wealthy and influential social circle.

The Bouvier Family

The Bouvier family held a position of influence in New York society, and their connections shaped Edith's early years. Her cousin, Jacqueline Bouvier, later known as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, became a prominent figure in American history as the wife of President John F. Kennedy.

Growing up in such an environment exposed Edith to a life of privilege, wealth, and societal expectations.

Early Life and Socialite Status

As a young woman, Edith Bouvier Beale embraced the socialite lifestyle, attending glamorous parties, and rubbing shoulders with influential figures. She had the opportunity to pursue a career in acting, but her aspirations were hindered due to family expectations and obligations. Edith's life took a turn when she faced the challenges associated with mental health.

Signs of Mental Health Issues

Throughout Edith Bouvier Beale's life, there were signs indicating her struggles with mental health. She displayed symptoms such as mood swings, social withdrawal, and eccentric behavior. These signs were early indicators of the challenges she would face in the years to come.

Impact on Edith's Life and Relationships

Edith's mental health struggles had profound effects on her relationships. Close friendships and romantic relationships withered, family bonds strained, and the support network that once existed gradually disintegrated. The isolation and emotional turmoil further exacerbated her mental health challenges, leaving her feeling trapped and vulnerable.

Living Conditions and Isolation

Edith Bouvier Beale and her mother, Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale, resided in a dilapidated mansion called "Grey Gardens." The house, located in East Hampton, New York, became a reflection of their isolated and unconventional lifestyle. The living conditions within Grey Gardens were unsanitary and reflected the challenges they faced in maintaining a healthy living environment.

Social Stigma and Public Perception

The unconventional lifestyle depicted in "Grey Gardens" subjected Edith Bouvier Beale and her mother to social stigma and public scrutiny. The public's fascination with their eccentricities often overshadowed the underlying mental health issues they faced. This constant attention and judgment added to their already fragile mental state, perpetuating a cycle of isolation and self-doubt.

Financial Struggles

Edith Bouvier Beale's mental health challenges had a significant impact on her financial situation. The decline in her mental well-being affected her ability to maintain steady employment and manage her finances effectively. This led to financial instability and difficulties in maintaining the upkeep of Grey Gardens, further exacerbating their isolation.

Edith Bouvier Beale's Mental Health Struggles

It is very difficult to make a definitive diagnosis of Little Edie's mental health condition. Some experts have suggested that she may have had a personality disorder, schizophrenia, or hoarding disorder. It is also possible that she had a combination of these conditions, or that she had a different condition altogether.

Isolation and Estrangement

Edith Bouvier Beale's mental health struggles were intertwined with her isolation and estrangement from the outside world. Cut off from society and burdened by family dynamics, Edith's world became confined to the walls of Grey Gardens. The lack of social interaction and support took a toll on her emotional well-being.

Hoarding Behavior

One significant aspect of Edith's mental health struggles was her hoarding behavior. "Grey Gardens" became a repository for countless items, ranging from old newspapers to broken furniture. The accumulation of possessions provided a sense of comfort and security for Edith, despite the unsanitary living conditions it created.

Psychological Impact

Edith's mental health was further affected by psychological issues, including depression and anxiety. The weight of her family's expectations, coupled with financial hardships, intensified her emotional distress. The crumbling environment of Grey Gardens mirrored her internal turmoil, creating a challenging environment for recovery.

The Documentary "Grey Gardens"

In 1975, a documentary titled "Grey Gardens" was released, shedding light on the lives of Edith Bouvier Beale and her mother. The documentary was directed by Albert and David Maysles, and it was based on a 1972 article by journalist Liz Smith.

The film showcased their living conditions, their relationship, and provided a glimpse into Edith's mental health struggles. "Grey Gardens" brought attention to their story and raised awareness about mental health challenges faced by individuals living in isolation. It became a cult classic, drawing widespread interest and shedding light on mental health issues.

Grey Gardens - Mental Illness Diagnosis

The documentary "Grey Gardens" depicted the lives of Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale (Big Edie) and Edith Bouvier Beale (Little Edie) living in seclusion amidst the dilapidated grandeur of their home. The documentary showcased their unconventional behavior, disarrayed living conditions, and somewhat reclusive lifestyle.

Given the portrayal of the Beales in the documentary, some viewers and critics have speculated about their mental illnesses (Remember, these are merely speculations):

Borderline personality disorder

Little Edie's behavior in the documentary, such as her frequent mood swings and her tendency to idealize and devalue people, suggests that she may have had borderline personality disorder.

For example, in one scene, she talks about how she used to be "the most beautiful girl in New York" and how she was "engaged to Cary Grant." In the next scene, she is talking about how she is "a failure" and how she will "never amount to anything." This pattern of idealization and devaluation is a common feature of borderline personality disorder.

Depression (Major depressive disorder)

Both Big Edie and Little Edie experienced periods of depression, and Big Edie was even hospitalized for a suicide attempt.

In one scene, Big Edie talks about how she has "nothing to live for" and how she "wishes she were dead." This is a clear indication of major depressive disorder (clinical depression).

Hoarding disorder

Both Big Edie and Little Edie hoarded possessions, and their home was filled with clutter. This is a classic symptom of hoarding disorder.

Narcissistic personality disorder

Big Edie's behavior in the documentary, such as her frequent self-aggrandizement and her lack of concern for Little Edie's well-being, suggests that she may have had narcissistic personality disorder.

For example, in one scene, Big Edie talks about how she is "the most beautiful woman in the world" and how she is "a genius." This is an indication of narcissistic personality disorder.

It is also possible that the Beales suffered from other mental health conditions, such as anxiety disorders or schizophrenia. However, without a formal diagnosis, it is impossible to say for sure.

Mental illness is a complex issue, and there is no single diagnosis that can explain Beales' behavior. And so, it is difficult to pinpointedly tell about Grey Gardens mental illness diagnosis. They were likely affected by a combination of factors, including their genetics, their upbringing, and their life experiences.

The Beales' upbringing

The Beales' upbringing may have played a role in their mental health. Both women grew up in a wealthy and privileged family, but they also experienced significant trauma.

Big Edie's husband, Phelan Beale, was an alcoholic who was physically and emotionally abusive.

Little Edie's father, Grey Eleuthere Bouvier III, was also an alcoholic, and he died when she was young. These experiences may have contributed to Beales' mental health problems.

The Beales' life experiences

The Beales' life experiences may have also played a role in their mental health. Both women experienced significant financial hardship in later life.

Big Edie's family lost their wealth, and Little Edie was unable to find a successful career. These experiences may have exacerbated their mental health problems.

To conclude,

The mental health conditions of the Beales in Grey Gardens are a complex issue. There is no definitive diagnosis, but both women likely suffered from several mental illnesses.

Watch the Grey Gardens documentary (1975) now

In this exploration of Edith Bouvier Beale's life and her mental health journey, we've delved into the complexities she faced, the impact on her family, and the challenges of living in seclusion at Grey Gardens. If you've found her story as intriguing as we have and are eager to delve even deeper into the world of Edith and her mother, Edith "Big Edie" Ewing Bouvier, we have an exciting opportunity for you.

We invite you to watch the documentary "Grey Gardens," a mesmerizing and unfiltered look into the lives of the Bouvier Beales. Directed by the talented Maysles brothers, Albert and David, this documentary paints a vivid portrait of their eccentric and unconventional world, adding another layer of understanding to their story.

"Grey Gardens documentary, 1975" offers a unique opportunity to witness Edith Bouvier Beale and her mother in their unfiltered state, shedding light on their mental health challenges, eccentricities, and the resilience they displayed in the face of adversity.

Don't miss this captivating glimpse into the lives of two remarkable women. Click the link below to access the documentary and continue your exploration of the Bouvier Beales' world.

Edith's Unique Style and Personality

Despite her struggles, Edith Bouvier Beale had a unique style and personality that captivated those around her. Known for her eccentric fashion choices and colorful headscarves, she embraced her individuality and expressed herself through her appearance. Her distinctive personality and style continue to inspire and intrigue people to this day.

Resilience and Creative Outlets

Amid her battles with mental health, Edith Bouvier Beale found solace and creative outlets. She indulged in writing poetry, singing, and dancing. These activities allowed her to channel her emotions and express herself despite the challenges she faced. Edith's resilience and ability to find joy in artistic endeavors are a testament to the power of creativity as a coping mechanism.

Impact and Legacy

Edith Bouvier Beale's story has had a lasting impact on our understanding of mental health. Her experiences shed light on the complexities of struggles with mental illness and the importance of providing support and understanding to individuals facing such challenges. Edith's legacy serves as a reminder to break the stigma surrounding mental health and to foster a more compassionate society.

Treatment and Support

In Edith Bouvier Beale's time, awareness and resources for mental health support were limited. However, today, there are numerous treatment options and support systems available. Seeking professional help, such as therapy and counseling, can provide individuals with the tools they need to manage their mental health effectively.

Lessons Learned from Edith's Story

Edith Bouvier Beale's story teaches us valuable lessons about compassion, resilience, and the power of human connection. It reminds us to approach mental health challenges with empathy and understanding, rather than judgment. By learning from her experiences, we can strive to create a more inclusive and supportive society for those dealing with mental health issues.


Edith Bouvier Beale's life serves as a reminder of the intricate relationship between mental health challenges and personal experiences. Her journey, filled with challenges and resilience, sheds light on the importance of understanding, support, and compassion. By embracing her story, we can foster a more empathetic society that prioritizes mental well-being.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q. What is the significance of the documentary "Grey Gardens"?

A. The documentary "Grey Gardens," released in 1975, brought Edith and her mother into the public eye. It exposed their isolated and decaying lifestyle, raising awareness about mental health and challenging societal perceptions.

Q. What were the main challenges faced by Edith Bouvier Beale and her mother at Grey Gardens?

A. The main challenges faced by Edith Bouvier Beale and her mother at Grey Gardens included financial instability, deteriorating living conditions, social stigma, and the impact of their mental health challenges on their relationships and opportunities.

Q. Did Edith Bouvier Beale receive proper treatment for her mental health issues?

A. While Edith made efforts to seek help for her mental health issues, the treatment options available at the time were limited. She faced challenges in accessing adequate care, highlighting the need for improved mental healthcare services.

Q. How did Edith Bouvier Beale's mental health struggles shape her perspective on life?

A. Edith Bouvier Beale's mental health struggles shaped her perspective on life by forcing her to confront societal expectations and embrace her individuality. Her experiences propelled her on a journey of self-discovery, ultimately leading to a redefinition of her identity and the development of resilience in the face of adversity.

Q. Was Edith Bouvier Beale related to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis?

A. Yes, Edith Bouvier Beale was the cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Q. What happened to Little Edie's brothers?

A. Little Edie Beale had two brothers, Phelan Beale Jr. and Bouvier Beale. Phelan Jr. died in 1974 of a heart attack at the age of 65. Bouvier died in 1983 of lung cancer at the age of 69. Both brothers were estranged from their mother and sister for many years before their deaths.

Phelan Jr. was a successful lawyer who lived in New York City. He was married twice and had three children. Bouvier was a businessman who lived in Florida. He was married once and had no children.

Little Edie was very close to her brothers when they were younger, but their relationship deteriorated over time. Phelan Jr. was particularly critical of Little Edie's lifestyle, and he refused to help her financially when she fell on hard times. Bouvier was more sympathetic to Little Edie, but he also felt that she was responsible for her problems.

The deaths of Little Edie's brothers were a major blow to her. She was very close to both of them, and she felt that they were the only people who truly understood her. Their deaths left her feeling isolated and alone.

In the years after her brothers' deaths, Little Edie continued to live in Grey Gardens. She eventually moved to Florida, where she died in 2002 at the age of 84.


The data I have provided about Edith Bouvier Beale's mental health in this article is from a variety of sources, including the documentary "Grey Gardens," news articles, and medical websites. However, these sources do not provide a definitive diagnosis of her condition.

If you are interested in learning more about Edith Bouvier Beale's mental health, I recommend that you do some additional research.


Other Posts

OCD: Symptoms, Types, Causes, Treatment, Help, Cure

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder , more commonly known as  OCD , is a common, chronic, and long-lasting disorder and is characterized by way of persistent, undesired thought processes (obsessions) and/or repeating actions (compulsions). Obsession, in this case, is highly unpleasant as the individual is compelled to repeat certain behaviors again and again. The condition, most of the time, is anxiety-related and the  thoughts are unwanted and intrusive . Sufferers often understand that these thoughts are irrational, but by performing compulsive behavior, they believe they will be cured or will be relieved. Recurring actions such as hand washing (to avoid catching germs), counting numbers, checking things over, or cleaning are frequently carried out with the anticipation of avoiding compulsive thoughts or making them disappear altogether. This is to avoid their obsession turning into reality. OCD is a common mental condition that affects 2.5 million adults or

Health Anxiety Is Ruining My Life: How to Get Over It

Do you have a fear of diseases? Have you ever thought of a simple headache to be a brain tumor, or a slight stomach ache as an intestinal blockage? Have people ever called you crazy because of your obsession with health and hygiene? Are you gripped by a constant fear of being terminally ill? Have you ever self-diagnosed yourself by checking the symptoms online? Are you aware of the symptoms of various diseases because you constantly look them up online? Do you keep getting tests done (often by different doctors)? Is no reassurance enough to prove that you are not sick? You know that but are never satisfied. Is that you? If the answer to most of these questions is yes, you probably are a hypochondriac. But if " Health anxiety is ruining my life " is something you can relate to, this article will help you overcome it. Health Anxiety Is Ruining My Life If you're constantly worried about their health and always convinced that you are sick, then you may