Is creativity a sort of madness? An illness even? History is replete with examples of highly talented and creative people, writers, artists, musicians etc who were not only celebrated for their talent and creativity but also famously remembered for being close to what can be described as ‘mentally ill’ in many cases the self same people being driven to actual madness, ending up either deranged or even dead, as many took their lives. Numerous examples exist where artists and writers have descended into madness or depression taking their lives, some very well regarded examples being Virginia Woolf, Vincent van Gogh, Kurt Cobain, Robert E. Howard. Of course while these examples may not be empirical evidence of the fact, a new study has proposed that creativity is a part of mental illness.
The new study which was conducted by Swedish researchers at the Karolinska Institute gathered data from close to a million people finding that creativity was indeed linked to mental illness, the study itself even detailing the kinds of illnesses found in various professions. Publishing their work in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, the researchers found that among all types of creative people, writers were the most susceptible having a greater risk of anxiety and bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, unipolar depression, and substance abuse as well as being twice as likely than others to commit suicide. In another example, it was found that dancers and photographers were more likely to develop bipolar disorder though the study does state that as a group, creative people are no more likely to develop mental illnesses when compared to other groups however they were more likely to have relatives who had mental illnesses, increasing the possible chances of having mental illnesses.
Speaking about the study, lead researcher, Dr Simon Kyaga said that creativity and mental illness shared commonalities, and from the study it was clear that one fostered the other, saying that, “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 that case, the doctor and patient must come to an agreement on what is to be treated, and at what cost. 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."
Commenting on the study, Beth Murphy of the organization, Mind, said, "It is important that we do not romanticize people with mental health problems, who are too often portrayed as struggling creative geniuses. We know that one in four people will be diagnosed with a mental health problem this year and that these individuals will come from a range of different backgrounds, professions and walks of live. Our main concern is that they get the information and support that they need and deserve."