Creativity has often been linked to depression or a mood disorder.
I wrote a short post some time ago about Depression and Writing. But I didn’t give much thought to the connection.
It was only voicing in a light-hearted way, an episode from my own experience.
But I was surprised by how many people read that short piece. So I decided to look a little deeper into the link between mental illness and creativity.
Depression and creativity
My first stop was an article from CNN — The dark side of creativity: Depression + anxiety x madness = genius?. One small quote from the article caught my attention.
“Using a registry of psychiatric patients, they tracked nearly 1.2 million Swedes and their relatives. The patients demonstrated conditions ranging from schizophrenia and depression to ADHD and anxiety syndromes.
They found that people working in creative fields, including dancers, photographers, and authors, were 8% more likely to live with bipolar disorder.
Writers were a staggering 121% more likely to suffer from the condition, and nearly 50% more likely to commit suicide than the general population.”
It sounds as if writing is one creative pursuit to avoid
Then I read an article by Rob Blair on the Creative Writing Guild titled, Why do creative people suffer from depression?
He turns the connection around to say that creativity may cause depression.
“For all these explanations, I also sometimes think that the association between creativity and depression is reversed. Yes, some studies have shown that creativity and depression are linked, but correlation doesn’t equal causation.
We know depression and creativity co-exist, but … well … it’s like this: If you have severe depression, you have to get pretty damn creative to survive it.
Maybe we become creative because we’re deeply unhappy, and we need to see a better world than the one we’re forced to live in.
Maybe our narratives break down, and we have to become creative enough to forge new ones.
Maybe we can’t stand the possibility of following the prescribed path that we’d be shuffled down if we focused in like we were told to.”
From my perspective, I am not sure that there is a definitive link between creative types and depression.
Yes, there have been many well-known artists and creatives throughout history. Examples include Van Gogh, who might have been at one time or another afflicted with depression or mild mental disorders.
It’s not always true
However, there have been many, including one of my favorite poets, Henry Lawson, who were more likely to have been alcoholics or drug addicts rather than suffering from chronic mental illness.
During the ’60s, illicit drugs were almost a necessity for the creative process to so many of our rock ‘n roll hall of fame musicians and singers of the era.
A lot of them perished to drug overdoses as a result. Of course, only to become icons as a result.
Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Keith Moon spring to mind.
But then again, Keith Richards defied the order of becoming a rock icon and creative genius by surviving.
However, none of all this LSD ’60’s inspired creativity had anything to do with a mental health condition or major depression.
From another perspective, there is the possibility that during periods of illness of any kind, but perhaps especially those affecting mental health, finding ways to aid recovery can often lead to creative pursuits.
Imagine you have two broken legs and a broken arm. Then perhaps writing with your one good hand would be a helpful way to deal with the time on your hands — or hand, in this case.
Jennifer Haupt wrote an article some time ago about Channeling Depression Into a Powerful Tool for Creativity.
Although the article deals with bouts of depression, I found this quote, which could apply to any illness or injury that interrupts normal life patterns.
“Creative endeavors are intrinsically rewarding, and you get these little shots of dopamine in the rewards center of the brain,” says Shelley Carson, a professor at Harvard University. She is the author of Your Creative Brain: Seven Steps to Maximize Imagination, Productivity, and Innovation in Your Life.
Dopamine is a mood-elevating neurotransmitter your body releases with pleasurable experiences. These include eating, sex, and drugs — and creativity.
I don’t have a definitive answer to the question. People who have suffered from depression know it’s not only an illness that affects your mood, as most people believe.
The majority of symptoms that people suffer when they experience depression are physical.
The disorder’s symptoms include exhaustion and fatigue, pain in the joints, back pain, and headaches. There can also be digestive problems, insomnia, and dizziness, among others.
When you suffer from all of these symptoms simultaneously, is it any wonder you can feel a loss of interest and a bit down in the dumps?
However, when suffering from so many symptoms and struggling to obtain a precise diagnosis, having something to occupy your mind and time helps.
In particular, if the symptoms are so severe that it means not being able to work.
I think I tend to lean towards the explanation given by Shelley Carson.
Doing anything creative when you are not feeling well is a positive step. It can aid in recovering from almost any illness or injury.
So no, I don’t think depression and creativity should be such overused collocated words.
I recovered some time ago from a tough time in my life. I am now very well, very busy, and back to working full time.
This, of course, limits my time to be a creative person.
It is why I’m writing this blog post, rather than a new novel.
But yes, I would dare to suggest that creative pursuits through writing helped enormously during my recovery. They gave me a sense of purpose.
Painting or basket weaving could have done the same. It was not the choice of creative pursuit that was important.
Creativity helped fill the void of not being productive while being unable to function or work normally.
So yes, there may well be a link. But only in the sense that creativity can be a means to recovery — from any illness.