Monday, August 18, 2014

Creativity: Gift or Curse?

In the wake of Robin Williams' tragic death, many have been reevaluating the correlation between creativity and mental illness. We actually discussed this on Thursday night during #NALitChat, sharing our stories and offering support—let's just say, the prevalence of depression and anxiety there was eye-opening. 


Of course, there have been studies proving and disproving this link. They're sprinkled all over the Internet. But since I'm not a scientist, I don't care about exploring every facet of every argument. I'm just going to share the parts I found interesting. Take Nancy Andreason, for example:



Other Links:


     •     February Grace discusses how certain medications, aimed at helping mental well being, actually hinder creativity (writer's block).

     •     Psychcentral.com warns against the romanticism of mental illness.

     •    The Daily Beast examines the relationship between creative types and mental illness:




Question of the Week:
What do you think? Is there a link?
(Rhyme unintentional.)

28 comments:

Donna K. Weaver said...

"romanticizes a disease". Bipolar is close companion for me, not for myself, but for very close loved ones. I wonder if the manic episodes free the creative personality to express it. The doctors explained that the mind races, so there is a rash of ideas that could be coming, along with a sense of being able to do anything--and the energy to do it. The subsequent downs in the cycle steal ambition and energy though. It's not uncommon for people with bipolar to have a hard time finishing things begun on a high.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I know some really uncreative crazy people though.
Could there be a connection? Sure. Not all creative people have highs and lows though.

JeffO said...

I think we have to be careful about confirmation bias here. I'm not saying there isn't a link; there may well be one. The thing is, you never hear about the brilliant creatives who live otherwise ordinary lives, and it's not because they don't exist; it's because someone dying of old age is going to get less attention than someone committing suicide.

That reads much more harshly than it should. I hope you know what I mean here.

Loni Townsend said...

My knee-jerk reaction is to crack a self-aimed joke, but it's not a laughing matter, and my usual approach would just devalue what's been said. I don't know if there's a connection between mental illness and creativity. I say there's no absolutes in this matter. Maybe there's a link. But at the same time, it's the big cases that get visibility. The ones who do hold that trait. Is it the majority? Out of all of those pursuing acting, painting, writing...how many suffer from a symptom? I don't know. It's an interesting correlation, but not a definite causation.

Sheena-kay Graham said...

Nancy's take was quite informative. My mother yesterday actually asked me about the depression I suffered after I dropped out of University in 2005. I was surprised since it was something kind of hush hush in our home. I think the death of Robin Williams brought up her questions but at the end of the day more people need to talk about mental illness. Also it is a lie that mental illness is what sparks creativity. I was creative before and after my severe bout of depression. I will not say that someone depressed can't be creative but it's scary to me that some would grasp it thinking that's the only way to create.

Mark Noce said...

A gift for sure:) I read a great study about artists vs scientists vs other occupations, and they found that artists (writers, etc.) drank just as much, got just as depressed, and killed themselves just as much as people from other walks in life. When interviewed, many artists explain that their art was often the one thing preventing them from hurting themselves, because it gave them such hope and purpose. Food for thought:)

cleemckenzie said...

I wonder if it's the visibility factor that makes it seem creativity and mental issues are connected. I really don't know, but we've all heard about VanGogh and Sylvia Plath; we don't hear about Joe the butcher who committed suicide.
Still, there are a lot of articles about how levels of dopamine receptor activity in the thalamus seems connected to higher scores on tests of "divergent" (creative, unique) thinking.

Carrie Butler said...

You're right, Lee. I think visibility definitely plays into it!

Melissa said...

Bipolar people can be very creative and productive in their hypomanic states, so yes, there can be a connection (and a temptation not to take the meds). But I agree with Lee that visibility of certain individuals skews the public's perspective. Like Alex said, not all creative people are mentally ill.

Great post.

Carrie-Anne said...

I don't think there's necessarily a link, even if many people use themselves or others as examples, and never look beyond their own self-selecting confirmation bias. It's the same as claiming ALL lefties are creative, artistic, musical, inventors, innovators, etc. A lot have been, but that doesn't mean the two traits always go hand in hand.

Morgan said...

I do find the topic fascinating. I know for myself, I never struggled until I started writing. I've never experienced so many lows since I decided to dive into this creative process. So while I don't think *bipolar* in particular is linked, I do think that all the other forms of depression, self-doubt, and anxiety definitely can be.

Crystal Collier said...

Truth, I think mental illness develops with any major imbalance of life--as in, any time we grow too obsessed with one aspect of life to the exclusion of all else. I think depression for artists comes from being so focused on one's art that they forsake the rest of the world, and then when validation or praise is slow to come, the creator sinks into despondence.

jamieayres.com said...

Although I'm no expert by any means, I totally agree with everything Crystal said ^^

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

During Hemingway's time it was thought that to be creative, one had to drink. I often wonder if it appears that creativity and mental illness is linked because as writers we're prepared to voice our concerns as they relate to our stories.

Carrie Butler said...

That makes a lot of sense, Donna. How frustrating to get knee-deep into a project and then lose the wind from your sails!

Carrie Butler said...

Agreed! I like putting discussion prompts like this out there, though. We gain all kinds of insight. :)

Carrie Butler said...

Absolutely! It's a valid point that I agree with. :)

Carrie Butler said...

Your last sentence sums up my sentiments exactly! Thanks, Loni. :)

Tammy Theriault said...

we will never know one's darkest secrets inside compared to what they project on the outside. my sister used to, in her 20s, work at a comic strip venue and said the comedians all had very depressing lives. Williams was one of my top 3 comedians and will be missed.

Carrie Butler said...

You're right. There needs to be more open talk about mental illness. That's the first step to changing the stigma.

Carrie Butler said...

Here's to gifts we don't want to return! ;)

Very interesting. Thank you for sharing, Mark!

Carrie Butler said...

I can see that temptation being there for other illnesses, too. A lot of these SSRIs for depression, OCD, anxiety, etc. seem to correlate with versions of writer's block, as February noted. It's a shame.

Thank you!

Carrie Butler said...

Great example, Carrie-Anne!

Carrie Butler said...

If nothing else, it definitely brings those things to the surface!

Carrie Butler said...

That's a great point, Crystal!

Carrie Butler said...

She made a great point!

Carrie Butler said...

That's a definite possibility! (About the vocalizations, that is.)

Carrie Butler said...

He will definitely be missed. So tragic. :(