Born in 1882, Woolf had a history of mental illness on both sides of her family. Many people (including her husband) believe that Virginia Woolf suffered from manic depression, also called bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, little treatment was available to her at the time, and she eventually took her own life at the age of 59.
Woolf experienced mood swings for most of her life, and she had her first serious mental breakdown at age 13, following her mother's death. In 1904, she had another breakdown and was confined to a nursing home for rest and solitude. During this episode, she heard voices and threw herself out of a window. She also experienced major attacks of mental illness in 1910 and in 1912. The later episode began shortly after Leonard Woolf proposed marriage to her. She spent more time in a nursing home, and when she seemed well, she married Leonard in August of 1912.
Between depressive periods, Woolf was very creative and productive. In early 1913, she completed her first novel, The Voyage Out. But by July of that year, she was re-admitted to a nursing home, where she was given the barbiturate Veronal to help her sleep. She returned home soon after but then attempted suicide by overdosing on Veronal. She did not recover from this episode until late September 1914.
Unfortunately, in 1915, Woolf relapsed, becoming incoherent and even violent. She was admitted to a nursing home and then was governed by nurses at her own home until November. After 1915, Woolf experienced a long period of good mental health and artistic exploration. This was when she wrote her great novels To the Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway and her proto-feminist essay A Room of One's Own, among other works.
Leonard Woolf noted "319 days of headlong and yet slow-moving catastrophe" between May 1940 and Virginia's death in March 1941. This was during World War II, and southern England was being bombed by Germany. Two of the Woolfs' homes were bombed in succession, and this may have sparked a return of Virginia's depression.
Around noon on March 28, 1941, she walked down to the River Ouse, near her weekend house in Sussex. Leaving her hat and cane on the riverbank, she placed some heavy stones in her coat pocket and drowned herself. Her body was found on April 18, and the coroner declared the death a suicide, Woolf left two similar notes for her husband and sister. In these letters, she admits to "going mad again" and expressed the belief that she would not recover this time.