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Creativity and Madness

Updated on March 4, 2013

Why Do Mental Illness and Creativity Often Go Together?

This hub has been written to answer an interesting question, "Why are people who suffer from anxiety &panic attacks some of the most creative people?" I've broadened the scope to all mental illnesses. I believe the reasons why are fundamentally the same for all mental illness. So, why does creativity and madness go together?


We, as people with mental illness, have been labeled as different. In a sense, we may be considered outsiders looking in. We often see the world as "them" and "us," and we're driven to understand both. What is art but statements about what the world or humanity is? So, I believe it's only natural for people who have mental illness to be drawn to art; to digest it and create it.

Some of us are poets. Some of us are traditional artists. Some of us take old books and turn them into masterful reflections of truth. The canvas and paint we use do not matter. We work to make sense of the world and the people in it.

It's almost like the world is a puzzle to us. We watch from the sidelines. Some of us participate in the game. None of us our strict observers. We are parents and children. Many of us participate only on our terms, even if those terms are at a distance measured in pixels.


Many people with anxiety disorders and other mental illnesses spend much of their time in their thoughts. I've been told many times that I think too much. I have heard others with mental illnesses say that they've been told the same thing. I'm not sure you can be an artist or a poet without introspection. I would say that an artist without introspection is a camera.

People with mental illness try to understand themselves. They also try to understand the people around them. We may challenge other people's opinions and develop our own theories. We have something to say about what we see and we create art to communicate these findings.

Not Seeing the World Only as It Is

Along with introspection and perspective is our tendency to see the world a little differently than others see it. I'm not talking about hallucinations. Some people see the world in very concrete, logical terms. That's not us. You may not see the monster in the closet, but we're sure it's there.

Really, a person could not have a mental illness without having beliefs or thoughts that are outside of what the world dictates. Could a person have an anxiety attack without believing there is impending doom even though the danger can't be seen? The spouse of someone with a mental illness may share the same circumstances with their spouse. However, the spouse with a mental illness may experience those circumstances in a very different way. People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) relive their nightmares.

Our worlds are not limited to what others can see.

We're believers.

We're thinkers.

We're born philosophers.

Why do creativity and madness often go together? Because if you can't speak the language of the world, you're forced to make sense of it in other ways.

Famous Artists Who Had Mental Illness

Famous Person
Suspected Mental Illness
Virginia Woolf
Bipolar Disorder
Eugene O'Neill
Vincent van Gogh
Bipolar Disorder
Tennessee Williams
Sylvia Plath
poet and novelist
Ludwig van Beethoven
Bipolar Disorder
Charles Dickens
Ernest Hemingway
Edgar Allan Poe
Bipolar Disorder

Art & Mental Illness

For those who have a psychiatric diagnosis, are you also creative?

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    • torrilynn profile image

      torrilynn 5 years ago

      Hi Sheila,

      thanks for this hub and for showcasing off the collaboration

      of creativity and someone's emotions someones ability to showcase

      off their pain thanks again and Voted up

    • Just_Rodney profile image

      Rodney Fagan 5 years ago from Johannesberg South Africa, The Gold Mine City

      Great hub, and agree with you. Being recently diagnosed as epelectic, am 62 years old and have been creative from a greater part of my life. As teenager, i used the camera as my canvas, pencil sketches and clay modeling.

      The past for or so years digital photography, and photo manipulations.

      Vincent Van Gough also suffered from Epilelepsy, as well as bi polar.

      However I think there have been some very sane people, who have and are very artistic, only mildly incentric.

      Thanksfor the great hub.

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 5 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Brilliant hub. I have never thought that the people who suffer from anxiety and panic attacks some of the most creative people. Thanks for writing and share with us. Good job, my friend. Voted up!


    • Sheila Wilson profile image

      Sheila Wilson 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thank you, lambservant. I always appreciate your feedback.

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 5 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      I read kay Redfield Jamison's book touched with fire. A good but difficult read (kind of dry) but she listed many of the artistic people you did. Good stuff Sheila. Voted up and across the board.