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Is There A Link Between Mental Illness and Creativity?

Updated on August 13, 2020
Kristoph M profile image

I am no expert on mental illness, I only speak through experiences of my own and those brave enough to share their stories with me.


Does The Link Exist?

While everyone is able to name at least one great mind that has made the history books, very few are aware of how many of these minds battled mental illness. Even many unknown artists that do not seek fame, or never achieve(d) it, have been known to live with mental illness. However, does that mean there is a link?

When it comes to creativity, it reveals itself in many forms. Writing, painting, drawing, sculpting, acting, and other creative outputs are known to be great forms of release from stress and even mental struggles with illness. It is a fact that creativity exists outside of mental illness. However, does mental illness cause creativity to be more prominent? Some would argue that it does.

How Does Mental Illness Impact Creativity?

There isn't a direct answer as to how creativity is altered or enhanced by mental illness. In fact, there really isn't any proof that it does either. That being said, there is plenty of evidence that suggests that mental illness will affect your artistic ability. For starters, some of the greatest pieces of art took life in the minds shrouded by mental affliction.

Knowing this, we have to ask, “How does mental illness impact creativity?” This is all pure speculation at this point. The reason why we cannot definitively say, one way or the other, that creativity is impacted by mental illness is due to the fact that there is no way to measure creativity. In fact, art in itself isn't comparable. Everyone's creativity is different. While Robin Williams was a master of his opus, he did suffer from mental illness. On the flip, there are actors and artists who have never known mental struggle and they produce amazing works that can't be held to any kind of comparison.

One theory suggests that the link between mental illness and creativity isn't how the illness will impact the creativity, but the mind as a whole. As many people who live with some sort of mental illness would be able to verify, their way of thinking in comparison to those without mental illness is often abstract and convoluted. This, in turn, opens up a doorway for wilder imaginations and deep thoughts/mind sets.

That still doesn't provide solid proof of a connection, just that there is a difference in how mental illness impacts the thought process. Those who have a natural ability to be creative in their own way, often don't accredit it to their mental hurdles, or lack there of. They, instead, give credit to schooling, natural talent, muses, role models, and hard work.

A Possible Connection?

While we are looking at only evidence, let's use a portion of research that was published by Nancy Andreasen in 1987. This piece of research compared 30 non-writers and 30 writers. The writers were shown to be more likely to live with bipolar disorder as opposed to non-writers. While this research is called on and cited widely, it also has undergone an immense amount of criticism.

On the other side of the looking glass to this research, some would argue that the methods used to conduct it were flawed. For starters, the pool of writers was small, same with those who were not writers. Also, the ones who did the interviews were the same ones that identified the traits of being bipolar, and not all of them were professionally diagnosed. The criteria that was actually used is still unclear. There are other factors that are arguably critical to the outcome of this research, there is no way to prove it accurate or not. So, again, pure speculation.

A Personal Note

As a writer, I am in my head a lot. As someone who lives with Bipolar I Disorder, my head isn't always a great place to be. However, the two combined have provided me with a level of sanity that medicine hasn't been able to grant me. While my blogs and articles may not be the greatest, I have been told that my imagination and creativity is somewhat impressive.

So, does my mental illness impact my writing ability? In more ways than one. While my abstract way of thinking allows me to look at situations and scenarios from unique perspectives, the negative affliction of being bipolar often prevents me from being able to sit and focus without getting lost in my depression or manic states. Before I was medicated, I feel like I was more productive and able to focus better. Since I have become medicated, I feel like my focus and creativity has suffered, but I haven't been able to measure the difference. Maybe the suffering that I endured living unmedicated caused a deeper perspective to write from. Maybe it is all in my head and I am letting the meds just psych me out. Who knows?

Final Thought

Though there are still questions that come from this supposed connection, the answers aren't as easy to find. If you live with a mental illness, and your outlet is one of creativity, then you probably have thought of the connection once or twice. If you are insanely creative, but do not suffer from mental illness, then you may have never given it thought. However, regardless of which side of this fence you reside, you have to give acknowledgment to those who have succeeded with mental hurdles to overcome.

While we can not say for sure that there is a connection, it is pretty evident that those who do live with illnesses like depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and schizophrenia while being creative can be expected to excel in their field of art. For individuals that live with a mental illness, and have a creative mindset, don't be afraid to express yourself. Sometimes exposing yourself through your art will create healing opportunities. It can also be encouraging for those who are scared to express themselves.


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