Many prominent artists experience depression, some of them, like Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf, end up dying by suicide.

One of the myths of creativity is that you need to be depressed to be creatively successful. You don’t.

But many creative people may be particularly susceptible to mood disorders.

Musician Shawn Colvin explained on an episode of the Oprah show (Depressed, Mentally Ill and Famous) that one way she dealt with her depressions in the past was to “just check out. There have been times when I’ve not shown up at work.”

In a press release, Colvin said, “Since seeking help and getting appropriate treatment for my depression, I have felt more engaged with and closer to family and friends, and have been able to fully capture my creativity.”

Eric Maisel, PhD, author of The Van Gogh Blues: The Creative Person’s Path Through Depression, notes that meaning aspects of our lives and work are of deep importance in dealing with dark moods – for creative people especially.

He says, “The places where we make large investments of meaning, for instance in our performances, paintings, or books, are places of great anxiety, because there is more than our ego on the line, there is our very sense of the meaningfulness of our life.”

From our interview Investing meaning in our art.

One of the ways we need to support ourselves is to deal with mental health challenges like depression that can distort our inner life and impede access to our creative thinking and energy.

There are, of course, many kinds and degrees of depression. There are ‘the blues’ – the ordinary sort of reaction to a distressing event such as not getting a film role you wanted, or a book deal, or leaving a relationship.

You may feel that kind of non-clinical depression intensely – especially if you are a highly sensitive person – but you will likely get over it with time, and new challenges, like another audition, a new publisher, will help.

But many creative people experience more serious levels of depression. Andrew Solomon earned international accolades for his work as a novelist, journalist and historian. At 31 he descended into a major depression. He was helped by a combination of family support, medications and talk therapy.

See his article The experience of darkness and hope.

In addition to medications and formal psychotherapy, there are many self-help approaches to managing depression, including books and supplements such as hypericum, or St. John’s Wort, which I have been using and finding beneficial for a number of years.

Even a simple strategy can help. Eric Maisel suggests, “It isn’t of life-and-death importance that the house be clean or that you remember everybody’s birthday, but it is vital that the chaos of ideas that start to flood your brain when you open up to your own creativity have a place to be sorted and saved.

“Many of us feel depressed, defeated, and incapable of creating for just this reason, that the swirl of ideas inside our head keeps swirling with no place to go. But something as simple as organization can turn that around. Investing in large erasable bulletin boards is an excellent starting point.” [From his The Creativity Book.]

My related site: Depression and Creativity



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    Last reviewed: 31 Oct 2010

APA Reference
Eby, D. (2010). Dealing with Depression to Access Our Creativity. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 28, 2015, from



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