Winston Churchill, Nietchze, Mariah Carey, Vincent Van Gogh, and Kurt Cobain. What do they all have in common? Although they may have lived in different times, and done different things with their lives, they all made a lasting impact. They all had strong, talented, and creative minds able to make a large and lasting impact. While creativity is one thing that connects them, bipolar disorder is another. For years, scientists have been studying a possible connection between bipolar disorder and higher creativity. Although bipolar disorder, as well as other mental illnesses, are often viewed in a negative light, the people who have them shouldn’t necessarily be portrayed the same way. People who have bipolar disorder are more than their diagnosis, they are their impact.
Over the years, it has been speculated that there is a correlation between bipolar disorder and increased creativity, due to the high number of people with bipolar disorder who have made creative advances. Studies have found that there is a correlation between bipolar disorder and high creativity, but the question is why. Some speculated that the intense emotions associated with bipolar disorder resulted in this increased creativity, but in recent years, it has been found that there is a significant genetic component as well. Those who are predisposed to bipolar disorder are more likely to exhibit creative features. Creativity and bipolar disorder are determined by our DNA. These changes in DNA for people with bipolar disorder display themselves in many ways, including the way the brain is structured. Brain scans of people with bipolar disorder show that they have “diminished frontal regulation of subcortical affective systems involving the amygdala and striatum, which may increase their affective instability as well as their compulsiveness” (Collingwood, 2018). This specific brain structure allows for many of the boundaries in a “typical” brain to not exist in the brain of a person with bipolar disorder. Researchers have found that creative individuals are up to 25% more likely than non-creative people to carry genes that are associated with bipolar disorder. Studies have shown that in relatives of people with bipolar disorder who do not share the same diagnosis, this same creativity is often still passed on. This proves that although creativity and bipolar disorder might not be always be necessarily connected, they are associated genetically.
The creativity exhibited by people with bipolar disorder can exist in a variety of different forms. One study found that children with higher IQ’s were more likely to exhibit the manic symptoms of bipolar disorder later in life. In using IQ as a test of intelligence, people with bipolar disorder or who exhibit bipolar features are essentially smarter than those who do not have bipolar disorder or features. Another study found that those who have higher than average grades in high school were four times more likely to develop bipolar disorder than those who had average grades. One study looking at business people found that those who had symptoms of bipolar disorder were more likely to be successful entrepreneurs. Overall, it seems that some of the world’s smartest and greatest minds have bipolar disorder. Many people who have high creativity, such as those that work and participate in creative fields, may carry genes associated with bipolar disorder, even if they are not aware of it. Fields and talents such as acting, music, and dancing are more likely to have people with bipolar disorder or bipolar features. One study found that poets are 30% more likely to have bipolar disorder in comparison to the rest of the population.
The intense emotions associated with bipolar disorder can trigger episodes of creativity. Periods of hypomania and mania are associated with high energy, irritability, and outgoing mood. Particularly, the high energy of hypomania can bring on creative episodes. Many artists and other creative individuals describe their episodes of hypomania and mania as their most creative times. Hypomania in particular is associated with heightened periods of creativity, cognitive thinking, and mental speed. Andrew, a rapper with bipolar disorder, says that although he can write new lyrics when he is depressed or stable, he is able to write faster while experiencing hypomania. When experiencing a hypomanic episode, a person might feel inclined to create, whether it be for a reason, or simply just for a release. The feelings of mania and hypomania can easily become overwhelming for the person experiencing them. Engaging in creative activities can relieve some of the pent up energy associated with hypomania and mania. Even for people without bipolar disorder, engaging in creative arts can be therapeutic. It is important to note that sometimes mania in particular can be so intense that it actually inhibits creativity. This is where treatment can help stabilize a lot of the intense emotions experienced by people with bipolar disorder.
When considering the relationship between bipolar disorder and high levels of creativity it is important to remember a few things. Not everyone who has bipolar disorder experiences increased creativity or enjoys engaging in creative tasks. Additionally, the struggles of bipolar disorder still exist even if the people who have it are able to create beautiful art. Mental illness is not something that should be romanticized. That being said, the association of high creativity and bipolar disorder just shows that people with mental illness are so much more than a label.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596
Cirino, E. (2018) Bipolar Disorder and Creativity. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/bipolar-disorder/famous-creative-people
Collingwood, J. (2018) The Link Between Bipolar Disorder and Creativity. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/lib/the-link-between-bipolar-disorder-and-creativity/
Jackel, D. (2019) The Truth About The Connection Between Bipolar Mania and Creativity. Retrieved from https://www.bphope.com/bipolar-mania-creativity/