One of the issues/topics I have frequently written against is the romanticizing of mental illness. One of the ways of romanticizing mental illness is to believe that people who are mentally ill are creative geniuses (or superior in creativity to others).
I understand that knowing the names and stories of famous people that were geniuses can help build up the self-esteem of someone who receives an initial psychiatric diagnosis. When I received my first diagnosis, I held on to the fact that people like Virginia Woolf, Vincent van Gogh, Isaac Newton, and many others also suffered from mental illness.
After many years of living with a mental illness, I gave up believing in the creativity mental illness link, though. I reasoned that creative geniuses are one in a million, and mental illness is as common as one in four people. I thought that if there were a link between creativity and mental illness, we would see far more geniuses pop up because of the number of people who have a mental illness.
Well, after reading some recent studies, and reading the book, Wired to Create Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind, by Kaufman and Gregoire I have changed my mind. I haven’t changed my mind about romanticizing mental illness, but I have changed my mind about the link between creativity and mental illness. It is important to remember what Kaufman and Gregoire point out, “…mental illness is neither necessary nor sufficient for creativity.” However, they go on to write, “…there does seem to be a nuanced link between the two…”
The book is an excellent read for those of us who have a mental illness who engage in any form of creativity – writing, painting, inventing, photographing, baking, cooking, sculpting, or any other of the numerous ways to express creativity. The studies and research referenced in the book can give some insight as to why there is a link between creativity and mental illness.
The book also recommends things you can incorporate into your daily life, like certain forms of meditation, which can help you improve your creativity. It points out the things highly creative or genius level creatives do to generate or fuel their creativity.
As I mentioned above, the book is clear that there is a link between mental illness and creativity, but you don’t have to be mentally ill to be creative and having a mental illness does not guarantee that you will be creative. And that is critical to remember. There are many people who suffer from debilitating symptoms of mental illness, and that fact should be a part of every article linking creativity to mental illness. Pointing that out, would help keep people from romanticizing any aspect of being mentally ill.
Being mentally ill is a lot of things, mostly difficult things, and because there is one positive link doesn’t mean it is something to romanticize. It’s not.
Artist’s palette photo available from Shutterstock