How Creativity And Mental Illness Are Linked

How Creativity And Mental Illness Are Linked


Ernest Hemingway, Vincent Van Gogh, Amy Winehouse-
the idea of the tortured artist is as old as art itself. But is there a link between
mental illness and creativity? Plato once said on the subject that he found
joy in such pain and to treat it as a gift: “Madness, provided it comes as the gift
of heaven, is the channel by which we receive the greatest blessings… Madness comes from
God, whereas sober sense is merely human.” There’s no shortage of myths and stories
of artists brooding moodily in front of a canvass, musicians turning to the bottle for
comfort, or writers ending their own lives. One landmark study by Neuroscientist Nancy
Andreasen in 1987 showed a link between creativity and mental illness. Her research found that
of the 30 writers she interviewed, most, 80%, had been hospitalized for some mood disorder
like bipolar or depression. Some studies find a higher incidence of mental
disorders in those in creative fields and especially in those individuals who’ve reached
some notoriety or eminence. Other studies find a higher incidence of mental disorders
in the family members of very creative people. These results strongly hint at a genetic link. Maybe it’s not just genetic but neurological
too. Some studies show that the brain acts in similar ways when being creative and when
mentally ill. One study published in the journal Neuroimage
found that a center of the brain, the precuneus, that is normally deactivated when thinking,
remains active when creative people are thinking creatively. The precuneus has been linked
in previous studies to things like imagining the self and retrieving memories. Using MRI
techniques, they found that the precuneus is typically deactivated when focusing on
cognitive tasks. But those that were unable to suppress this part of the brain were linked
with more original ideas. They also found that a similar thing happened in the brain
of people who scored high on schizotypy, a less intense version of schizophrenia. Basically when you are trying to focus on
something you tune out everything around you, but not creative people. According to one
study published in the journal Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience “more-creative
people may include many more events/stimuli in their mental processes than do less creative
people.” But how does mental illness mean more creative
thoughts? Well maybe it has to do with free association which can be defined as the spontaneous
and undirected association of ideas, emotions, and feelings. Sometimes free association in the unconscious
mind could lead to strange and bizarre links. Which isn’t a bad thing. This very process
can spark novel ideas. Einstein called it “combinatory play”. Like coming up with
a new formula for gravity or a great metaphor. But sometimes the ideas are a little too far
out there and can delve into the truly delusional. Famous mathematical genius John Nash said
“the ideas I have about supernatural beings came to me the same way that my mathematical
ideas did, so I took them seriously.” It’s almost like creativity and madness
are on a spectrum. With creativity somewhere in the middle and delusion and madness on
the other end. While considering more possibilities certainly leads to greater creativity, so
does dwelling on a single problem. One of the hallmarks of depression is neurotic
thinking. Neurotic thinking can be focusing on negative thoughts and feelings and constantly
ruminating on things past. For instance if you’re like me you still remember that one
time when you waved back at someone when they were really waving at the person behind you.
That scene replays in my head over and over. ( don’t wave, just don’t wave.. oh god
you waved) But this rehashing can have an up side, according
to a study published in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences. Rumination means focusing
on a problem for longer than most people would. By dwelling on the same problem, sometimes
single-mindedly, these types of people would eventually come up with an interesting solution. And it’s not just the pursuit of a single
problem, but neurotic people might be more creative too. Mostly because neurotic people
are highly anxious. You know, in preparation for a threat they literally imagine the worst.
Like when your mom doesn’t text you back you imagine something bad must have happened
like a car accident or she’s in a hold up at the bank. This penchant for dramatic imaginings
might help creative people imagine solutions most people wouldn’t. While the idea of the mad genius might be
alluring and seductive, it shouldn’t be. Like Nancy Andreasen highlighted, these people
like Kurt Vonnegut and others were successful not because of their mental illness, but in
spite of it. It’s hard to work when you’re depressed or manic. Many creative types find
themselves disabled by their disorders just as often as they are inspired by it. Speaking of signs of creativity, are you a
um… messy person? Turns out you’re more than just disorganized, you’re probably
creative! Anthony explains the research in this great episode, right here.

100 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Azealia Banks should totally see this. She's creative but she has serious anger management issues and probably a mental illness.

  2. I have depression, but I feel like the only reason people call me creative is because my ideas are what make me forget about the things making me depressed.

  3. This is one of the most interesting videos I have ever seen! I just shared it on my FB page. Every study cited makes perfect sense to me based on my own experiences as a cartoonist, comic artist, caricaturist. I think you hit on all the most salient points in a very concise way.

  4. I'm chronic psychotic and heavy schizophrenic. See my artwork and poems http://chockarmah.blogspot.nl/ https://whazappa.blogspot.nl/

  5. when i was little i was considered to have mental illness. now this could explain why i was getting good marks without even trying in school when i was little.

  6. I have creativity according to my friends but I’m too afraid to share my ideas without feeling like someone will laugh at me or think my ideas are stupid and so on…

  7. Creativity require lots of free time.
    People with issues – sometimes mental illness -tend to be lonely. Its how i became a painter

  8. Ha
    My Grandma has a heavy case of Borderline.
    My Mom says she has it as well and I myself, Have no idea.
    I do think I have it but I'm afraid asking my Mother because I'm 100% sure she'll say something like "No, you don't have Borderline and your totally fine. Don't worry about it."
    Also, I myself am really good at drawing for a 14 year old.
    At least everyone says so, I myself finds it normal and thinks I draw horrible.

  9. "As mad as a hat" hat makers in the older days would end up going insane or mad cause of the chemicals used in making hat. Kids in 3rd world country's make shoes with simular chemicals today

  10. Creativity in the brain NEVER STOPS. In my case maybe because I am a natural born artist my brains is constantly thinking. In fact there were wasted ideas. If not writer then it is long forgotten. 🙁 It could be a qoute or a meme. Anything. This makes me questions the Lord, "Lord why did you give me these talents?". The thing is that makes me ask that question is because I haven't really applied them much. I can sing (I joined a choir), I draw, I can dance, my subconcious makes orgami that I do not know how make them (unfortunately I failed to collect them), my hands do this ninja like hand gestures, I even made a poem or a song from nothing my friedn even doubted if I made that (well, it sounds like from a local and old TV series where I got a bit of its tone) etc. I am thankful but cannot but ask.

  11. Gotta disagree – it's really easy to work when you're manic. That's pretty much the only time I get work done.

  12. I'm a desinger…always have been an artist and I'm suffering from anxiety and depression, a friend of mine that is bipolar suspects I could be too. Anyway what can we as creatives overcome these illnesses so that they do not affect so badly our careers and lives?

  13. I can approve this. Going to an art/design school's depressing. The people are depressed. I slowly become depressed. Glad Im leaving it X(

  14. Every time I come up with “solutions” people think I’m being ridiculous but it’s only because I think of all possible outcomes of situations-even the worst. And then when they find out my solution would have worked they apologize but still do the same thing the next time….I have a really strange mind that not a lot of people understand…they think I’m just weird and unusual

  15. In order to evolve organisms must transcend conventional order and if they don't their species become extinct!

  16. I make music, and I actually feel like everyone around me suffers from mental illness and that I'm the only sane person in my group. Normal people feel too much and are very insecure. It's pathetic. If I am mentally ill, I reside on the opposite extreme side of the spectrum of what is generally considered "mentally ill." I am very creative as I can make military weapons, drugs, and other illegal shit (I don't do it though) to the point where I read about terrorists and think, "amateurs." Luckily for the human race I just want to live my life, have as much fun as possible and remain anonymous. I wish more people were like me.

  17. I'm dyslexic and I have adhd now this explain why our community usually are font of art. I was put into a group therapy where most of us have add/adhd and 3/5 of us can draw or take art as main major. Even some of my friends with autism and Down syndrome can paint and even open their own gallery. but too bad some of us can't make an income out of our passion..

  18. You just think different when you have a mental ilness. Mental ilness makes you creative not the otheer way around

  19. Mental illness is not"madness." I don't know what Plato meant by the word, but I doubt he was talking about mental illness. Maybe he meant some of the more extreme symptoms of some mental illnesses, but he certainly wasn't talking about the vast majority of people who suffer from mental illness.

    Sadly, this video just serves to reinforce the ignorant notion that mental illness is insanity or madness. It also suggests that somehow mental illness is OK because it makes you creative.

    Finally, I'll point out that Hemingway, Can Gogh, and Winehouse all died of their illnesses.

  20. I've been creative all my life by way of drawing, creating stories, poetry, making my own raps/hip hop and even playing with action figures well into adulthood. And I have multiple people on my dad's side of my family who're or who were mentally ill, including my dad himself. But besides myself, no one in my family is creative.

  21. I feel extremely creative when I have a depressive episode but I don’t have the energy to do anything but I write a lot of quotes, song texts, or draw drawings when I feel really depressed.

  22. I found this trying to look for a rap battle between the 2….I think I like this better

  23. Well depending if your creative, or not isn't the only factor. Fantasies are the worst thing you can get caught up in, so keeping a grip on reality is important. And being able to manage your time in effective ways keep you sane most times. I was totally in the mental area when I didn't see the world around me for what it really was. But, I didn't feel stress, or even get depressed. But it all changed when I got a grip on the world around me. The mental issue for me was a loop I would make a story and it would be too perfect. So, I would give up on it. Now I work on much more creative projects and enjoy every minute I put into them. Only issue is, is finding a healthy balance. Creativity can lead to over activeness, and non creativity can lead to laziness.

  24. Made a 5wheel bike,bike with steering wheel,4foot tall standing alien from paper machie,I had ptsd,ocd,not fun living in fear of world domination from computers making people unable to work.

  25. Vincent Van Gogh may have been a brilliant artist, but he still died alone…What good does being "creative" do you, if no one truly understands you? If instead people reject you over and over again, EXCEPT when you create something they like…Even then, they don't actually want YOU, but rather what they can get out of you…

    So I can do a bit of writing on the side, so fucking what. You may like my writing, but you don't like ME. You may like the photographs I take, but you could care less about what bothers me, or what my interests are…

    You don't actually like me, you just want to use me. That's how people are though…Hypocritical users by and large…

  26. Im a savant I get sudden breasts of genies where Im vary happy go lucky and have lots of epiphanies
    but after its over I feel disinterested tired and just unhappy so its like being high I guess
    anyone else.

  27. So if I'm uncreative, I become depressed because of it, therefore I become sufficiently creative to decently satisfy my ambition, so I'm no longer as depressed, therefore I become less creative and so less satisfied and consequently depressed again. The artist is never truly satisfied, which is arguably both a good and a bad thing.

  28. I maybe crazy but hey im rich and my fire in brain drives me to amazing things never give up go for your dreams teaches dr everyone give up on me but i never gave up one my self.
    I clean toilets for living and invest my money in invests pay me when i sleep so i let myself have as days off i need lol.

  29. Is there a fine line between intuition and madness? I struggle as well. My reality is confined yet so abstract to the fact of the limitations from the forces of this universe. Yes I have schizo-affective disorder and my upbringings have indicated of my personal artistic inclination, but at the moment I have little moral support. I am too easily misunderstood by every person I've encountered. But my love for physics and the arts are what is holding me together.

  30. We did a little interview with a creative artist who dives into the world of mental health ~ https://youtu.be/XPgkEZJ46no ~ she describes each creations as her "babies" and a little attachment can make one more prone to mental illness

  31. I’m highly creative and accomplished in creative fields, but I have always been sane like really sane lol creativity and the Arts give me peace, I think these social studies are exaggerated and only people in European led cultures believe this ( that a high percentage of creative people suffer from mental illness) the studies are weak and do not add up because what about people in other fields that suffer from mental health issues at high percentages it’s not cause they are creative, Mental illness cuts across we can’t just pigeon hole it like this.🤷‍♂️

  32. It frustrates me so much. I went through a phase about a month ago. I out of the blue wrote 10 songs in one day. The next day I wrote 5. These thoughts and lyrics came out of me when I was feeling immensely down but active. I think in total over the last month I have written over 50. I’m keeping them secret though. I don’t want anyone to steal my songs as I’ve heard writing songs is difficult. But to me. I find it as normal as breathing. I just feel born to do music and write songs ❤️

  33. Maybe another factor in the link between creativity and mental illness may be society.
    Famous artists (in history and now) are bound to face a lot of criticism on their work, it's not something they can really avoid. If there's enough of that criticism, the artist might start to believe in that criticism and develop unhelpful thinking patterns which could lead to mental illness (depression, anxiety etc.).
    Even if the artist is not very famous, they could still develop bad thinking habits about how their work is not good enough, questioning why they aren't successful yet even though they've been trying to be for years.
    I'm not saying this is the only reason, just that it may be another essential factor to contribute to the link
    The "examples" I've listed are so common in the art world, and I've seen those patterns happen to a lot of my favourite artists and even to myself, so I just felt like I needed to add that.

    Or maybe I'm wrong. I could just be rambling.

  34. The brain is like a machine.If it is constantly working it will get issies faster than a machine that barely works at all!!!

  35. I’m not sure I’ve done well out of business but not so well in relationships. But yes I think people with mental illness are more creative as I found out today. I was in my car and every time I parked somewhere I’d clean the interior. Imagine if I could turn that creativity into a song, Nema, a good idea or a piece of art work; now that’s a good idea. When was the last time you saw a piece of art worth buying.

  36. I was high off an edible one day and was writing. I thought my work so great. The very next day I couldn’t feel good about my writing at all. The feeling seems to come and goes.

  37. Life is about perception. An artist can perfect their skill and craft and still never be able to see it themselves. It’ll will never be goo enough for them.

  38. I’m a straight A* student and a fine art artist and There are four mental illnesses I match the symptoms for (OCD,BDD,Depression and anxiety – it’s tricky because most can stem from each other like OCD can cause all three of the others) and I have for years now but I don’t know how to get help. I can’t seem to admit that I’m not doing okay to anyone

  39. Maybe they're creative because of the alienation of mental illness and the need to get it out there. So they resort to making pictures.

  40. I have bipolar disorder manic depression and i find myself actually utilizing Albert Einsteins combinatory play method of thinking a lot.

  41. I am currently suffering and sometimes I can’t move when I started to make
    More and more art with so much designs I really started feeling much more healthier

  42. I have Bipolar 1 and ADHD. Just got diagnosed. I guess that’s where the creative genius comes from. I had a hard time learning my whole life but I see patterns and connect dots at lightning speed sometimes. It’s torture sometimes. I’m 500 more times likely to have a heart attack and twice as likely to die from a freak accident. I thought I was a broken idiot my whole life bc of poor grades and risky decisions. I suffered as a kid abused by my mom and all her boyfriends and a gift was bestowed upon me. I picked up a guitar a few years back and the music pours out. 145 on standardized IQ test. I wish I saw a psychiatrist sooner. 33 years of hell isnt worth being a tortured genius. Genius should be nurtured, not abused and neglected. ( That’s how Hitler was made)

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