Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Think You're Creative? No, You're Just Sick

I'm not sure this will come as a surprise but there's a link between creativity and mental illness.   It's no coincidence that so many great comedians, for example, are or have been manic-depressives.

Now a study of more than a million subjects finds that creativity is often an actual part of mental illness.

Writers had a higher risk of anxiety and bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, unipolar depression, and substance abuse, the Swedish researchers at the Karolinska Institute found.

They were almost twice as likely as the general population to kill themselves.

The dancers and photographers were also more likely to have bipolar disorder.

 Lead researcher Dr Simon Kyaga said the findings suggested disorders should be viewed in a new light and that certain traits might be beneficial or desirable.

For example, the restrictive and intense interests of someone with autism and the manic drive of a person with bipolar disorder might provide the necessary focus and determination for genius and creativity.

Similarly, the disordered thoughts associated with schizophrenia might spark the all-important originality element of a masterpiece. 

Dr Kyaga said: "If one takes the view that certain phenomena associated with the patient's illness are beneficial, it opens the way for a new approach to treatment.

 "In psychiatry and medicine generally there has been a tradition to see the disease in black-and-white terms and to endeavour to treat the patient by removing everything regarded as morbid."

Beth Murphy, head of information at Mind, said bipolar disorder personality traits could be beneficial to those in creative professions, but it may also be that people with bipolar disorder are more attracted to professions where they can use their creative skills.


karen said...

It's an interesting correlation, no? I am working toward studying neuroplasticity one day, and we have been talking in my biopsych classes about mental illnesses. I have very mixed feelings about the way mental illness and conditions like ADHD are approached. On the one hand, some people are clearly suffering. On the other, when symptoms are not so extreme, maybe the conditions are integral to the way a person expresses themselves. So I should be sorry if we medicated the talent out of a present day Van Gogh or Mozart, but would they prefer to risk that rather than endure a condition that may well be misery?

The Mound of Sound said...

This study does suggest we need an enlightened approach to mental illness. Years back I reviewed two cases for the Law Society involving highly-esteemed lawyers who went off the wall when they stopped taking lithium. Theirs was a common complaint. The drug, while it did control their manic-depression, also numbed all enjoyment out of life. It became so oppressive to them that, aware of what was in store, they stopped taking their meds.

the salamander said...

I am a writer, photographer, director of photography, producer, idealist - artist.. curmudgeon ... and sad to say.. I aint even under 6o years of age ...... and I'm a radical environmentalist to boot

So .. am I screwed .. ? (Bi-Polar toast?)
If I embrace Stephen Harper and vote Conservative
.. and renounce all creative ideas
will I delay the onset ? A day.. a week ?
Can I prorogue the malady ?

Anonymous said...

Of course the middle of the road conservative leaning shrinks of the day assume that artistic ability and expression is some form of deviant behaviour..in the sense that we are creative at all, it is a deviancy from the dull, mediocre nonentities who unfortunately control all of us, and whose only 'creative' act is to lie with impunity, knowing that there is no one who can effectively call them on it..
The creeping fascism inherent in Canadian life and times suggest capitulation to the Right...this boot-licking banality is anathema to anyone who is creative in an artistic sense, and, just like Russia in the 1950's, we are judged to be mentally ill because we deviate from the state of doormat stupor seemingly infecting the rest of the citizenry...no surprise that we are suddenly considered 'sick' in comparison..I'll accept that label proudly.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ cityprole - "artistic ability and expression is some form of deviant behaviour." Only when it's done really, really well.

@ Sal - yes, indeed, you're screwed. And no, it's much too late to delay the onset of your (our) affliction. Hang on, it's bound to be a wild ride!

Like you I have lived long enough to grasp that conformity, while often taken as evidence of stability, is really voluntary surrender to suppressive nullification.

Perhaps we fail to distinguish the mental anomaly of genius from garden-variety mental illness. And I think we need to de-link it from intelligence. I've known some highly intelligent people who had not a shred of creativity and some impressively creative people who had no massive intellect. There seems to be a Venn diagram aspect to intellect and creativity.