In our society, it is common to hear someone call another individual “crazy” or “mentally unstable” because they are diagnosed with a mental illness. In contrast, it is uncommon to acknowledge someone for their creativity. It is even shocking that an individual with a mental illness could be capable of such creativity.
Current society claims an individual with a mental illness or disorder is weak, requires more care than a person without a “mental issue”, or is incapable of performing basic tasks or day-to-day activities without stirring up a scene. The negative and degrading stigmatization around mental health has influenced society to believe mental illnesses or disorders cannot allow an individual to be seen as unique or inspired.
There is an existing link between creativity and mental health. The thinking behind this link has been attributed to many biological accounts of artists, musicians, and poets who have struggled with mental illness and had occasional spikes of creativity in their most memorable works of art and masterpieces. This discovery between creativity and mental health has helped redefine what it means to be creative. According to a PubMed scientific analysis which discusses the relationship between creativity and mood disorders conducted by Nancy Andreasen, MD, PhD, creativity can be defined as producing something novel, useful, or beautiful in a very general sense, which accounts for having achieved something leading to public recognition for their work.
The infamous artist, Vincent Van Gogh, had suffered from psychotic mania and depression. He published his greatest works of art, over 300 different entities, in the last year and a half of his life. Sylvia Plath, one of the most admired poets of the 20th century, was struggling with an undiagnosed mood disorder for the majority of her life. There are historical accounts of her last works of poetry indicating Plath worked very late into the night and early in the morning. Aspects of her work contained a dry sense of humor, suggesting a manic or hypomanic state of mind demonstrated in bipolar disorder (Andreasen, 2011). Other well-known figures in history tied in the correlation between creativity and mood disorder were Ernest Heminway, Winston Churchill, and Theodore Roosevelt.
Recently, scientific research has been trying to discover what factors contribute to periods of creativity with individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It has been indicated that manic and hypomanic states are the indicated periods of when creativity spikes the most with elevated levels of productivity. Researchers have investigated that a leading factor to such creativity is due to a connection in genetics (Cirion, 2019). Individuals who liked being in creative fields, such as dancing, writing, and music, carried genes associated with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia up to 25 percent more often. There is evidence behind a genetic component which accounts for the beneficial traits individuals with bipolar disorder may have.
In 1989, there was a study conducted by psychiatrist, Kay Redfield Jamison who surveyed 47 British authors and artists that were being treated for mood disorders and had been hospitalized or on medication for their conditions. The group was asked questions pertaining to the moods experienced during creative episodes. The reported conclusions indicated changes in mood, cognition, and behavior that either preceded or coincided with these creative processes (Burton, 2012). Other significant findings included increased feelings of enthusiasm, energy, self-confidence, and speed of mental association. Symptoms relevant to hypomania that overlapped in the study were elevated mood, heightened fluency of thoughts, and strong sense of well-being (Burton, 2012).
Another study was conducted to find similar traits between creative beings and those with bipolar disorder at Stanford University by Santosa. A temperamental trait that was discovered between individuals with bipolar disorder and creative people was an indication for mild elation and depression with moderate shifts from one to the other (Burton, 2012). There were substantial differences in mental cognition which attributed to creativity during elated and depressive episodes. From the study, the episodes which exhibited mild elation illustrated that these individuals were able to manifest into a state which allowed them to gather vision, confidence, and stamina contributing to creative expression and realization. In contrast, the depressive episodes focused on the current issues in front of them by eliminating irrelevant ideas, conducting self-analysis, and placing their feelings and thoughts into perspective.
Creativity can be unleashed at unexpected times. However, it could be even more unexpected with an individual diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder. This is by no means a reason to romanticize mental health or believe mental illnesses and disorders should be left untreated because there is a chance that it may or may not increase creativity levels.
Most people tend to think that having a mental illness is a reason why they are so different from others who do not have one. Having a mental illness should not limit an individual from thinking they are capable of achieving something in life. Creativity is unique in the way it can flourish and exist in many different individuals. No one should feel inferior or be embodied by the idea that being diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder is the point where creativity stops.
Andreasen, N. (2008, June 1). The relationship between creativity and mood disorders.
Burton, N. (2012, March 19). Bipolar Disorder and Creativity. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hide-and-seek/201203/bipolar-disorder-and-creativity
Cirino, E. (2019, December 6).Bipolar Disorder and Creativity. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/bipolar-disorder/famous-creative-people#is-there-a-link
Johnson, S. (2011). Creativity and bipolar disorder: Touched by fire or burning with questions? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3409646/#:~:text=It%20has%20been%20suggested%20that,manic%20symptoms%20can%20enhance%20creativity.