Is there a correlation between having a mental illness and being especially creative? Since ancient Greece, where Aristotle recorded that many creative people were depressed and Plato pointed out the various eccentricities of poets and playwrights of the age, the idea that they are connected somehow has persisted. Is there any truth that an original mind is more likely to also be troubled?
According to the findings of a Swedish 40-year study of 1.2 million people by the Karolinska Institutet, people with creative professions are more likely to be treated for mental illness as opposed to the main population. People in families that have one or more members who suffer from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are also shown to be significantly more likely to go into creative fields.
Historically, many famous artists and writers have been found to have had various mental illnesses. Ludwig van Beethoven and Vincent Van Gogh are believed to have had bipolar disorders, creating their famous works during their manic episodes. Ernest Hemingway and Charles Dickens had severe clinical depression, as did Edvard Munch, and Michelangelo had Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
Harvard psychologist Shelley Carson’s theory was that what connects creativity and mental illness is the “cognitive disinhibition” process. It is essentially a failure of the brain to keep useless ideas out of one’s conscious thoughts, which can cause delusional thinking and confusion to schizophrenics, but also make minds more prone to thinking originally and outside the box.
There can be no correlation without causation, however, and even though it has been found that statistically atypical amounts of creativity and mental illness seem to be in the same individuals, there is nothing that can prove that they are connected to each other by anything but coincidence. But until the theory is found to be accurate or disproved, the centuries-old idea that mental illness and creativity are connected will still continue to persist.