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Is there a Connection between Intelligence, Creativity and Mental Illness?

shutterstock_242457724Is there a Connection between Intelligence, Creativity and Mental Illness?

Plagued by mental health disorders such as depression, bipolar polar disorder, and schizophrenia, are a host of artists, writers and famous people throughout history. In fact, many times the eccentric tendencies of genius are associated with mental illness. t

An article in Medical Daily titled “Why Smarter People Are More Likely o Be Mentally Ill” claims over thirty studies have documented the connection, concluding:

“Affecting some 2.5 percent of the U.S. population, bipolar disorder alone has touched many of our greatest achievers, including Vincent Van Gogh, Buzz Aldrin, Emily Dickinson, and Ernest Hemingway.”

The answer to the question “why” remains somewhat elusive and any evidence of a link between mental illness and creativity has not convinced some scientists. Early this year in Huffington Post, another article claimed, “the cognitive-neuroscience community is divided on whether a scientific link between creativity and mental illness actually exists.”

The controversy may stem from trying to define such an abstract idea as creativity, along with the difficulty of establishing a method of measuring it. This needs to be established in order to be able to quantify any future research results.

But there is evidence that there could be a link between intelligence and bipolar disorder. Lead researcher James MacCabe, wrote in a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

We found that achieving an A grade is associated with increased risk for bipolar disorder, particularly in humanities and to a lesser extent in science subjects. These findings provide support for the hypothesis that exceptional intellectual ability is associated with bipolar disorder.”

The Huffington Post article “What Neuroscience Has To Say About the Tortured Genius” wrote,

Historically, there have been creative thinkers who spoke about mental illness giving them their edge. “My fear of life is necessary to me, as is my illness,” the artist Edvard Munch, thought to have had bipolar disorder, once wrote, according to Smithsonian magazine. “Without anxiety and illness, I am a ship without a rudder … My sufferings are part of myself and my art. They are indistinguishable from me, and their destruction would destroy my art.”

This is idea that suffering is necessary for art is hotly debated among artists and scientists. While it is important not to dismiss anyone’s feelings or experience, the fact that mental illness influences those feelings cannot and should not be ignored in the process of improving overall health. Bipolar disorder, depression, addiction and other psychiatric/psychological disorders are debilitating and life-threatening conditions, and although society may benefits from the productivity of these geniuses, their health must be taken into consideration. Intelligence will not simply disappear due to improvement in mental health, so creative genius will not necessarily disappear or not manifest itself if a person seeks treatment. A health care professional can provide more information.

Vincent Van Gogh actor image available from Shutterstock.

Is there a Connection between Intelligence, Creativity and Mental Illness?

Richard Taite

Richard Taite is founder and CEO of Cliffside Malibu, offering evidence-based, individualized addiction treatment based on the Stages of Change model. He is also co-author of the book Ending Addiction for Good.

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APA Reference
Taite, R. (2015). Is there a Connection between Intelligence, Creativity and Mental Illness?. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 7, 2020, from


Last updated: 11 Mar 2015
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