Zelda Fitzgerald and Healthcare Economics


This case study explores the life of Zelda Fitzgerald through the economic lens of risk assessment. Zelda Fitzgerald is a fascinating figure in U.S. history widely known as the wife of acclaimed novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, however Zelda’s own artistic talents were well ahead of her time and widely underappreciated during her lifetime. Both Fitzgeralds suffered from mental illness: Scott was an alcoholic, and Zelda famously spent much of her adult life in various asylums, ultimately dying in a fire at Highland Hospital in Asheville, NC. From an economic standpoint, Zelda’s case is of particular interest because she lived during a period in which our understanding of mental illness was changing. Mental health reform, spearheaded by figures like Dorothea Dix and Thomas Story Kirkbride, was creating a culture in which mental illness was beginning to be approached with compassion. Still, rampant misunderstanding about what it meant to suffer from mental illness abounded, and the cost of seeking treatment was high, not just financially, but socially. By exploring the life of Zelda Fitzgerald through an economic lens, students will be introduced to the basics of risk assessment. These fundamentals are straightforward, but exploring their application to the life of an extraordinary and nuanced person such as Zelda Fitzgerald highlights the challenge of putting a dollar value on something as precious as quality of life.

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