Are creative people more likely to be depressed?

Or are depressed people more creative?

That seems to be the question – a cause vs. effect, correlation vs. causation, which came first the chicken or the egg type conundrum.

A 2014 CNN article by William Lee Adams begins by citing examples of famous artists and their struggle to balance their genius with madness – Edvard Munch and his fear of life, Vincent van Gogh and his ear self mutilation and Paul Gauguin’s suicide.

And it’s not just painters. Numerous classic authors are mentioned who suffer from mood disorders.

In fact, the article cites a Swedish study which found that people with creative professions “were 8 percent more likely to live with bipolar disorder.”

Writers were 121 percent more likely to have it.

And being a writer, it doesn’t look like I’ve got good odds.

But while that study may present a link between creativity and depression, and there sure seems to be plenty of anecdotal evidence to support such a theory, it doesn’t offer any sort of causal explanation for why.

The link between creativity and mental illness has been explored and pondered for more than a hundred years.

In Nancy C. Andreasen’s article in The Atlantic, she mentions early examinations of the link between genius and insanity dating back to the 1800s. She goes on to trace the progress of the scientific studies on the subject up to her own work currently.

Andreasen doesn’t present a definite answer to by creative people experience mental illness at a higher rate. But she does suggest that perhaps those early studies which hypothesized a hereditary link may be correct. Perhaps their personality styles are a contributing factor or the environment in which they were raised.

But perhaps for those creative types suffering with depression, the important issue isn’t “is there a connection” or “which causes which.” Perhaps the focus should be instead on how to use creativity not as a cause or a symptom of depression, but as a path towards recovery.

Derek Haines wrote about depression and creativity on Medium and this quote stuck out to me:

“If you have severe depression, you have to get pretty damn creative to survive it.”

And at least in my own experience with depression, he’s 100 percent right. He sums up the idea perfectly:

“It was not the choice of creative pursuit that was important. It was the fact that creativity helped fill the void of not being productive while being unable to function or work normally.”

So while the link between creativity and depression still fascinate me and while I will keep an eye out for further research on the matter, I think I’ll be trying to focus on viewing creativity as a part of recovery.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

(*Apologies for the delay in posting, I can blame a lotta things but it was mainly the dreary weather that made me curl up and binge The Crown these last two days.*)


3 thoughts on “Are creative people more likely to be depressed?

  1. Louis Naughtic says:

    The theory basically states that, to grow, we must suffer – and have the inherent capacity to overcome. As the saying goes: “Calm waters make bad sailors.” But, many people face misfortune, and never overcome. Therefore, people whom have both the potential for dramatic growth, and whom face challenge, mature. And I don’t think I have to make an argument to support the idea that intelligence accompanies creativity.

    Basically, I’m saying that creativity often accompanies depression not because depression causes creativity, but because creativity is inherent in people whom have the intelligence, and therefore the capacity, to overcome the challenges that lead to depression. Further, the more intelligent a person is, the more likely they are to reject societal standards and live more creative lives – since societal standards are usually quite awful. And, of course, the more one rejects societal standards, the more society seeks to undo their efforts, and thus generates problems which lead to depression.


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