“Writers, especially poets, are particularly prone to madness. There exists a striking association between creativity and manic depression. Why are more creative people prone to madness? They have more than average amounts of energies and abilities to see things in a fresh and original way—then because they also have depression, I think they’re more in touch with human suffering.”
(I'm sorry. I can't find an original source for that one).
Popular culture has long stereotyped poets as depressed and creative scientists as mad. In fact, the idea of a link between creativity and mental illness goes back to the time of Aristotle, when he wrote that eminent philosophers, politicians, poets and artists all have tendencies toward "melancholia."
Indeed, there are numerous examples of famous creators--writers like Virginia Woolf, painters like Vincent Van Gogh, composers like Robert Schumann--who have been highly successful but had or are suspected to have had a mental illness.
Some studies have backed up this notion, suggesting that writers, artists and others are more likely to have a mental illness and that people with certain mental illnesses, such as depression and mood disorders, appear somewhat more likely to be creative. While some researchers have found that creative people are slightly more at-risk, others have found more grave connections, such as that they are 30 percent more likely to have bipolar disorder.
- The Sylvia Plath Effect
* Does creativity cause mental illness? There isn't a link between mental illness and the actual process of creating, says psychiatrist Albert Rothenberg, MD, of Harvard Medical School, who has studied Nobel laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners and other highly creative individuals. Rather, he argues that mental illnesses such as anxiety, thought disorder and depression disrupt the cognitive and emotional processes necessary for successful creativity.
In fact, in his book, "Creativity and Madness: New Findings and Old Stereotypes" (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990), Rothenberg proposes that highly creative people do better when they are treated for their mental illnesses.
"That doesn't mean people who create haven't often had mental illnesses," he adds, but that their subject matter and the field they are in perhaps have more bearing on their mental health than creativity itself.
* Does the type of creativity matter? Creative people in the artistic professions are more likely to have a mental illness than those in less artistic professions, such as science and business, according to research by Arnold M. Ludwig, MD, in his book, "The Price of Greatness" (Guilford, 1995).
Moreover, in a more recent retrospective study of 1,629 writers, Kaufman found that poets--and in particular female poets --were more likely than fiction writers, nonfiction writers and playwrights to have signs of mental illness, such as suicide attempts or psychiatric hospitalizations.
In a second analysis of 520 eminent American women, he again found that poets were more likely to have mental illnesses and to experience personal tragedy than eminent journalists, visual artists, politicians and actresses--a finding Kaufman has dubbed "the Sylvia Plath effect" after the noted poet who had depression and eventually committed suicide. The findings appear in The Journal of Creative Behavior (Vol. 35, No. 1).
In A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare suggested a link between madness and artistic creativity: 'The lunatic, the lover, and the poet', he wrote, 'Are of imagination all compact'. Recent studies have shown that there is indeed a connection. Rates of mental illness are hugely elevated in the families of poets, writers and artists, suggesting that the same genes, the same temperaments, and the same imaginative capacities are at work in insanity and in creative ability. Thus the reason madness continues to exist is that the traits behind it have psychological benefits as well as psychological costs. In Strong Imagination, Daniel Nettle explores the nature of mental illness, the biological mechanisms that underlie it, and its link to creative genius.
From Strong Imagination by Daniel Nettle.
What are your thoughts on this?
I know that being ill this past year, in the depths of my depression, my ability to write has vanished. I'm afraid of it being lost permanantly. Such a strong desire to write comes over me, but I am unable to focus enough to write.
Hence the large number of nothing posts with pretty pictures instead.