29 thoughts on “Do You Think There's A Connection Between Creativity And Mental Illness?

  • June 15, 2009 at 9:45 am

    I believe that those of us with mental illness do tend to be more creative than your every day run of the mill non-lunatic. I mean, we’re bound to feel a deeper connection to words, images and sounds – we live in a world of technicolor while everyone else is stumbling through black and white.

  • June 15, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    Certain, if not all, mental illnesses force upon their bearer an introspective viewpoint, in touch with one’s emotions and inner processes. Parallel is the creative process, as it provides an extended realm of expression for one to formalize his/her introspection and/or insights.

  • June 16, 2009 at 7:41 am

    I took an art history course that started off with early christian art and ended in Rembrandt. One of the most interesting things I learned was how the attitude about artists has changed. Apparently artists back then were simply craftsmen. In some paintings made during the renaissance the frame was valued more than the actual painting.
    I honestly hate all the connotations that come from being an artist, however art is something I’ve always been good at. From an early age I inherited the attitude that something is not quite right with artists and therefore something is not quite right with me. I believe that the belief that artists are weird and are prone to mental illness is as common as plumbers wearing ill fitting pants. Its a stereotype and the only difference is no studies have been made about plumbers choice in wardrobe.
    As an art student I actually felt pressure to be “different” and I was probably one of the most conservative of my fellow students. I also felt that most of my classmates were more comfortable with themselves than anyone else I’ve ever met and I envy them for it.
    Friends I have that find art weird or alien simply do not get that art is the most basic form of communication and to me verbal the most complicated. To some a sketchbook is probably like a blog is to you. The thing is, I’m pretty sure drawing has been around before the written word.
    I believe people suffering mental illness need that basic communication as creative outlets are very helpful. Its easy to twist ones word but harder to twist an image. Artistic people are more expressive and they seem more open to sharing what they are feeling than say, a student of accounting.
    If given the choice I would rather not be artistic. As a child it has helped me obtain a completely wrong diagnosis of ADD, which allowed me to become detached from my peers, and then lead me to consume myself with even more art while the rest of my schoolwork (not art, theater, or choir) suffered. By high school I learned how to figure things out, balance my priorities and I actually was seen as one of the “smart kids.”
    This attitude can be harmful.
    I just wonder what the statistics would be for mental health professionals?

  • June 17, 2009 at 7:24 am

    There is no mention of dancers????? I was(and in my soul, still am) a dancer, and suffered from anorexia nervosa as a 19-21 year old dancer. I am now 35, and am a psychotherapist and dance therapist.
    Maybe creative people are more open to emotionas and so experience a wider range of emotions,and thus mental states, and are used to expression.
    There is also a counter argumant, that the use of ‘sublimation’ through arts and the abiltity to express, can protect against some mental illness to an extent.

    It is woth reading Petruska Clarkson’s ‘The Achilles Syndrome’ book, particularly the chapter on Achilles as Artist.

  • June 17, 2009 at 8:06 am

    In my opinion I believe that creative people are very finely “in-tune” with their feelings, the signals that others send out & their environment. They are, for the most part, passionate, caring people & they pick up on the smallest details. Creative people are animal lovers, they root for the underdog, fight against the injustices in the world. They are thinking people…deep thinkers. They analyze situations in a way that a non-creative person would not; if someone scowled at the creative person, it might invoke feelings of their neglected childhood, or they might feel hurt & wonder why a person would want to hurt them. A non-creative person would see the scowl & promptly forget about it as not being worth their time to even think about. Would it not stand to reason then, that a person like that would be more likely to be affected by depression or other mental illnesses? I believe so.
    Anyone agree? Please don’t scowl at me though…I’m a creative type!


  • June 17, 2009 at 8:08 am

    I am a very creative emotional person and I have suffered from anxiety and depression. I was acutely ill for several years in my late twenties. The time when I was the most psychiatrically ill was the most creatively productive of my life. I wrote poetry as if there was no tomorrow. It just flowed out of me onto the page seemingly all by itself. As my illness subsided and I became ‘normal’, that wellspring of creativity dried up and went away. I’m still creative and emotional, but I don’t have the fire that I did then, and I haven’t been inspired to write a meaningful poem since.

  • June 17, 2009 at 8:32 am

    I disagree with Nick. Introspection (with corresponding personal insight) is not synonomous with mental illness. Those qualities are usually found on the healthier end of the human psychology spectrum.

    And from what I’ve witnessed (a husband with BPD, among other things)it is the opposite of introspection which is usually found with mental illness (projection, splitting, etc.). People who suffer psychotic delusions and such aren’t even living in reality much of the time, let alone capable of honest, contemplative self-reflection. For many (with personality disorders, anyway) it seems they’d most likely rather die than self-reflect.

  • June 17, 2009 at 8:44 am

    I think we live in a society which privileges success in competitive fields governed by very strict and limiting rules and norms. As a result, individuals with strong creative drives tend to do poorly in our society and have much greater difficulty finding the social resources that would make them feel less lonely and more integrated.My belief is that if we were less sick as a society, we would find less of a correlation between mental illness and creativity.

  • June 17, 2009 at 8:50 am

    The very nature of creativity is to be able to re-combine elements, such as music, dance and visual art, to something out of the ordinary. Flexibility of thinking and visualizing outside the range of a non creative person could be labled “crazy” if they cannot directly understand the art work. For myself, I have found my creative ability the most positve way to express my deepest woes, concerns and pain without belaboring others. My creativity allows me to be comfortable with many things outside the mid-range of possibilities. My creativity has been a survival tool during the toughest of times.

  • June 17, 2009 at 9:41 am

    I believe that creative people are – more often than not – sensitive people. I am a published writer, a painter, a psychotherapist. I feel things deeply and I am sensitive; I think that has served me well in the emotional world both inner and outer.

    Some call it emotional intelligence. I call it an extra pair of hands to manage life. I’m grateful to have a life.

  • June 17, 2009 at 11:51 am

    It is very simple. Dopamine is involved in the pathway of reward and anticipation, which leads one to develop a skill in order to receive greater pleasure from completing a project. Dopamine is involved in the processing and enjoyment of music. Dopamine enhances the excitement that we feel from having sex, looking at beautiful things, or pursuing a romantic relationship. Dopamine dysfunction also lies at the heart of several mental illnesses that apply to creative “geniuses” who have been diagnosed (in reality or retroactively) – including schizophrenia and high-functioning autism / Asperger’s disorder, not to mention that some people with ADHD can actually be highly productive and creative. People with too much dopamine become withdrawn into their own private existence, which protects their unique insight into the world. This nurtures creativity, because you are literally “creating” your own reality due to the fact that you are blind to the reality of others. This can either make you a famous artist who is lauded for his/her sensitivity, or get you committed to a mental hospital. The outcome depends on hundreds of social, cultural, medical, neonatal, parental, and economic factors. But at the root of the issue is dopamine dysfunction: more than normal, less than normal, or a cycling in between high and low. This is the source of creativity.

  • June 17, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    I do think that in today’s society that anybody who goes against the grain or thinks outside of the box is quickly labeled as having some sort of disorder. It is as if being creative and having your own voice is viewed as craziness and therefore needs to be “fixed”. Therefore, people who are free thinkers and who crave an artistic outlet are labeled as damaged and put on meds that stamp out all individuality. I know that when I was on Paxil, I had no creativity whatsoever and I see that a lot with other people who have been labeled with a mental illness and take meds. Being human should not be a disease. God gave us emotions and we should be free to use them.

    Twitter name: aslapintheface

  • June 17, 2009 at 2:43 pm

    Alicia, terrific post and topic! I happen to belong to a web group
    (DaVinciNation.com) that applauds artists, creativity, entrepreneurs etc who are disordered to varying degrees and disorderly a lot of the time! As a group, we celebrate our ‘gift’ of being “supra-normal”, and have all endured labels of ADD, ADHD, OCD, BiPolar, Aspbergers etc. I can honestly say, in my exposure to the group, that many of us are creative, outside the box thinkers, who arrived at our collective disorders through our attempts over decades to fit into the mythical parameters of ‘normal’. Yet we are all uniquely, innately creative, intelligent and compassionate human beings just looking for a better way to make our lives meaningful and contribute our strenghts to a better world.

    Our creativity, our genius, and our neuroses, are all very valuable parts of who we are and we support each other loudly in pursuing an examined life and living to our fullest potential, as individuals and as a group. And no, I don’t think our creative drives make us more prone to mental illness! For the most part, we tend to see our disorders and afflictions as a necessary part of growing, individuation, spiritual pursuits as human beings.


  • June 17, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    I am bi-polar and a creative artist but I really don’t know if there is a connection.

    Modern art has largely treated the weird, the unpleasant, the ramdom as progressive, I think this approach has largely been a decadent dead-end. I think the idea that mental illness can be constructive may have stemmed at least in part from this approach.

    But just because the reason behind widespread interest in “crazy” art is flawed that doesn’t mean there is no connection . New Scientist 9/6/09 reports being dissatified and unhappy can lead to creative solutions.If you’re happy, why bother? Perhaps an increased capacity to be unhappy/depressed may be behind bi-polar creativity, not the seemingly wild “creativity” of mania.

    This also makes me wonder if hangovers not drunkness may explain the correaltion between drink and many self-styled artists.

  • June 17, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    Mental illness often means an atypical brain. And creativity is thinking of things that most people don’t think of–atypical ideas. So, yes. Mental illness and creativity are connected; in fact, I believe that the gene pool keeps mental illness–and makes it relatively common–because the world needs atypical thinkers. The mainstream of humanity has no problems in a stable society; but progress, both in evolution and in human thought, has always been connected to the “mutant” DNA–the genetics which, despite their weaknesses, had one or two interesting traits that advanced the survivability of the species as a whole. The cost of supporting atypical minds–mental illness–is more than covered by the contribution that those same atypical genetics make to the human race as a whole.

    It is beneficial to support weaker members just for this reason: The atypical is often the source of progress. It has, for example, been proposed that the inventors of the first human technology might have been slightly autistic–object-focused, and protected from predators by stronger companions while they invented fire.

  • June 18, 2009 at 8:16 am

    I was a college adviser to undergraduates majoring in the visual and performing arts for many years. There was no question that a larger proportion of our students “suffered” from mental illness than did students in other fields. I do not consider that a negative. Their creativity clearly was a very successful way of coping and adapting. They experienced highs and lows, but were always a joy to work with.

  • June 18, 2009 at 9:00 am

    There seems to be consensus that mental illness and creativity go together; I don’t know enough to fully agree, but I do know that I am creative, and I have a mental illness. Meds are not designed to hinder creativity as part of a grand conspiracy by the government to stifle artists, as one or two commenters here believe. Most artists don’t need any help to be stifled. That’s why art is my hobby, not my day job.

  • June 18, 2009 at 11:35 am

    I absolutely believe that creativity comes with the curse of “mental illness” or “brain disorder.” I have thought this from the time I was 9 & read about Edgar Allen Poe. I was writing from the age of 5, illustrated books about dogs & poetry. By the age of 14, I had read much of the Romantic poetry, including that of Lord Byron. I read a biography about him & thought “this is what’s wrong with me.” It was called manic-depression. Despite many “nervous breakdowns,” I wasn’t diag. until age 45.
    I did well in school & college, especially in literature, creative writing & art. I contributed to underground newspapers (drawings & articles), worked on newsletters for various causes & in the meanwhile, worked, took classes, painted & wrote. I’ve had over 30 poems published, and 2 stories. I was diag. with manic-depression (aka bipolar) & am on good meds.
    Kay Refield-Jamison goes into detail about this connection in “The Fire Within.”
    We are so lucky in the 21st C. to have good medications/therapy. Vincent van Gogh would have lived a longer, happier life if he’d had the right meds. But he fought the torture of his mental illness by diving deeply into painting, art theory & writing brilliant letters.

  • June 18, 2009 at 2:39 pm


    It how the mop flops!

    Sometimes we just have to figure how it happens, we have to know the far end of a fart.

  • June 18, 2009 at 9:42 pm

    I think we are all creative whether mentally ill or not. I have read of manic states of creativity that disappear once coming back down. It makes sense if manic you have more energy and ideas which you act upon spontaneously. In fact some bipolars may not take their meds due to the fact that they lose their creativity expression.
    Depressed persons seem to like to express their feelings in poetry, or music….
    I think we all have an inborn desire to create and express our own unique God given talents–don’t you?

  • June 19, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    I’m often told I’m an incredibly creative person, and I blame it on all the creative ‘muscles’ developed trying to cope with ADHD. Had to be incredibly creative in every area of life, even in ways I wasn’t aware of, to appear half-way competent to the people around me. I would have been drawn to creative pursuits anyway, but without ADHD it might have been confined more to artistic pursuits–of which I would have finished a higher percentage, hopefully.

  • June 20, 2009 at 9:41 am

    Is there a link between creativity and mental illness?

    Let me put it this way: When I’m relaxing, my husband on Mars communicates through hand signals that are transfered into radio waves and are then picked up by the fillings in my teeth. This causes me to have vibrant visions which appear on the wall above the fish tank. The visions are the inspiration for my next creative project. I must do it as it appears or the Commander of the Martian Army sends enforcers in tiny space ships that ride on light beams and enter my head. They take over my thinking and tell me to do strange things like pull my hair out or flush one of my fish down the toilet. I also have an intense craving for chocolate ice cream.

    Let me go check what’s in my freezer……… Did I answer the question?


    I thought I would lighten things up a bit. However, I am an artist and have been suffering from chronic depression for as long as I can remember. My creativity comes out not only in my art but also in my ability to tell stories. LOL!

  • June 22, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    In my opinion, the more genius a person is, the more likely that person is to possess some level of insanity.

  • June 23, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    I think we are all born with creative ambition and needs.

    Depending on the environment creativity flourishes or is suppressed.

    Cultures where individuals normally engage in creative activity do not see creative expression as abnormal.

    Cultures where suppression of individual expression, watching TV or sitting at a desk passively, believe the creative behavior to be childish, abnormal and the person to be defective.

    This defect is seen as a spiritual or physical disease.

    Making money is seen to be normal and healthy.

    The word “crazy” enters our vocabulary early as children, to describe something that can not be understood. Since children are taught to focus on being understood by and to understand teacher, this labels behavior and people as outsiders.

    Values in cultures are expressed in creativity – if divinity is valued, then spiritual creativity will be honored – like Michelangelo, if individuality is valued, then Van Gogh will be honored. If money is valued, then the most expensive art will be valued.


  • June 27, 2009 at 9:43 am

    It does seem that creative genius types are also prone to odd behavior that could be considered mental illness–depression or bizarre behaviors. I think Michael Jackson was a great example of this.


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