Movies and books have long portrayed the anguished author, tortured by mental demons penning powerful prose. History reveals that many famous creators in the arts had a traumatic early life experience which doesn’t necessarily mean that the trauma was responsible for the creativity. Creating can be therapeutic for individuals with pre-existing mental illness and research has shown that creative writing benefits people who have suffered trauma.
A study was carried out at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden to determine whether mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, were linked to creativity. A prior study by the same researchers a year earlier revealed that artists and scientists were more numerous in families with a history of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
The researchers then included additional diagnoses including schizoaffective disorder, depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug abuse, autism, ADHD and suicide. Outpatients as well as inpatients were included.
The study followed 1.2 million people and their family members. The results mirrored the previous study indicating that certain mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder, were more common among artists or scientists in professions such as dancing, photography and writing.
Authors, specifically, were noted to be prone to schizophrenia, depression, anxiety and substance abuse and their likelihood of suicide 50 percent higher than other professions. The relatives of those in the creative professions were also found to be more likely to suffer from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and autism. According to Simon Kyaga, senior consultant in psychiatry and doctoral student at the Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the Karolinska Institutet, the results should cause a reappraisal of approaches to mental illness.
He believes that if certain aspects of mental illness are beneficial, a doctor and patient should agree on what to treat and what the effects might be. Traditionally, the whole disorder was treated, now perhaps, only certain aspects of the disease may be treated so that creativity may continue.
Kari Stefansson, founder and CEO of deCODE, a genetics company based in Reykjavik, Iceland reported on a study in that country which reached the same conclusions as the Swedish study. Steffanson said, “To be creative you have to think differently and when we are different, we have a tendency to be labeled strange, crazy and even insane.” Perhaps the poet Lord Byron should have the last word, in the presence of fellow poets he told the Countess of Blessington, “We of the craft are all crazy.”
For those struggling with mental health disorders, such as bipolar disorder, treatment is available. For further information, please call the Florida Depression Helpline to start the path to recovery.