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Robin Williams: Intensity Is Not Pathology – Part 2

[Continued from Part 1]

Robin WilliamsAs Dr. Webb explains “Existential depression is a depression that arises when an individual confronts certain basic issues of existence… (or ‘ultimate concerns’) – death, freedom, isolation and meaninglessness.”

[Gifted, Sensitive, In Need Of Meaning: Existential Depression.]

His related book: Searching for Meaning: Idealism, Bright Minds, Disillusionment, and Hope.

Webb has written extensively about how characteristics of giftedness that are a part of so many people – including well-known artists such as Robin Williams – are often misdiagnosed.

In his book Misdiagnosis And Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults, he warns that “Many of our brightest, most creative, most independent thinking children and adults are being incorrectly diagnosed as having behavioral, emotional, or mental disorders.

“They are then given medication and/or counseling to change their way of being so that they will be more acceptable within the school, the family, or the neighborhood, or so that they will be more content with themselves and their situation.”

[Pathologizing and Stigmatizing: The Misdiagnosis of Gifted People.]

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But high ability and creative people can experience – along with giftedness characteristics – very real mental health challenges, such as depression, addiction and anxiety, as Williams did.

That does not mean ability is tied to disorder.

Psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman wrote in his Scientific American blog:

“To be sure, research does show that many eminent creators – particularly in the arts – had harsh early life experiences (such as social rejection, parental loss, or physical disability) and mental and emotional instability.

“However, this does not mean that mental illness was a contributing factor to their eminence. There are many eminent people without mental illness or harsh early life experiences, and there is very little evidence suggesting that clinical, debilitating mental illness is conducive to productivity and innovation.”

From The Real Link Between Creativity and Mental Illness, Beautiful Minds blog October 3, 2013.

Scott Barry Kaufman, PhD is Scientific Director of The Imagination Institute; a researcher in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and author of Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined.

Intensity and creative people

Intensity was an almost defining personality quality of Williams – as it is, of course, for many talented artists and other people – whether or not they are identified as gifted.

Polish Psychiatrist and Psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski defined this intensity as overexcitability: an abundance of physical, sensual, creative, intellectual and emotional energy, and many researchers and advocates use his theories (and expand on them) to help explain what makes gifted people emotionally and intellectually exceptional.

One of my articles: What do you do with your intensity? [which links to a number of related articles].

Author Christine Fonseca notes:

“Robin Williams was not ONLY an individual who had battled both depression and addiction, he was a genius. His very being meant he was intense…

“Gifted people do get depressed… We are not broken in our intensities. But we do need acceptance, even when we seem crazy.”

“So much of the conversations in these last days has attributed the creative genius to the mental illness, as though they always go together. But they don’t. The intensity DOES.”

[Wherein I talk openly about the creative mind…]

One of her books: Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students: Helping Kids Cope with Explosive Feelings.


Psychologist Judith Schlesinger declares “There is no evidence…that a poet or comedian is any more disturbed than the mail carrier. People (are) asserting creative people (are) more prone to mental illness without a shred of proof. But the myth is so beloved and so ancient that people figure it must be true and there must be evidence.”

[Robin Williams: A link between genius, mental illness? by Maria Puente, USA TODAY August 13, 2014.]

Schlesinger thinks a careful review of a number of the so-called “landmark” studies in the field of creativity and mental health “by psychiatrists Nancy Andreasen and Arnold Ludwig, and psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison, reveals gaping holes in their design, methodologies, and conclusions.”

She is author of The Insanity Hoax: Exposing the Myth of the Mad Genius.

See more quotes by her and many other psychologists and artists in my article Madness and creativity: do we need to be crazy?

Robin Williams with Alice Drummond in Awakenings

Rather than needing to be crazy, we need to be healthy enough to safely access challenging emotional “places” that can help us create.

Psychologist Cheryl Arutt emphasizes that creative people need to show self-compassion and take care of themselves: “You can’t protect the art without protecting the artist.”

She also emphasizes that whether or not you use difficulties in life for art, “Your pain is a part of you, but you are not your symptoms; you are so much more.”

From Creative People and Mental Health.

Also see Psychologist Cheryl Arutt on Mental Health and Creativity.

Photo: Williams (with actress Alice Drummond) said his role as Dr. Malcolm Sayer in the movie “Awakenings” was his favorite – portraying neurologist Oliver Sacks, author of the book.

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There are many places online to find out more about giftedness, such as my site High Ability [see link in sidebar to the right to the related Facebook page].

For more information and help with addiction, anxiety, depression and other challenges, see the Psych Central page: Mental Health & Psychology Resources Online

and my page Emotional Health Resources.


If you like this article, then visit and ‘Like’ my related Facebook Page to see more of my writing.

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Robin Williams: Intensity Is Not Pathology – Part 2

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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Some excerpts from The Creative Mind are included in his newsletter .
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Emotional Health Resources - Programs, books, articles and sites to improve your emotional wellbeing.

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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2014). Robin Williams: Intensity Is Not Pathology – Part 2. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 2 Sep 2014
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