Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Why Are Creative People More Prone to Depression? - Arts Hub article by Deborah Stone

My friend Will Curry, violist for the National Tour of "Les Miserables," has shared a fascinating article about the tendency of artists to battle depression.  The original article (linked below) was written by Deborah Stone and appeared in the on-line publication "Arts Hub."

Here is an excerpt from this excellent article.

"Since Plato it has been argued that ‘madness’ is twinned with creative genius, that the agonies we now understand as depression and the turbulence we now recognise as mania are part of a Faustian bargain with inspiration.

Science has proved the mad genius is not a myth. Studies of artists and writers collated in Scientific American confirm that artists and writers are up to 20 times more likely to suffer from bipolar disorder (also called manic depressive illness) and 10 times more likely to suffer from depression.

One per cent of the general population is bipolar but seven studies over the past 30 years have found rates of bipolar between 5% and 40%, reaching as high as 70% when cyclothymia, a milder syndrome of cycles of elation and gloom, is included.

In the case of unipolar or major depression, the population rate is about 5% but the rate among artists and writers in the various studies between 15% and 50%.

Both these conditions are strongly associated with suicide and, most disturbingly, artists are 18 times more likely to suicide than the general population.

Why is depression so prevalent among artists? How does a genetic flaw turn into a creative bonus? And how does an artist access the benefits of that creativity without suffering the potentially fatal harm of a major mood disorder or even the lesser but still painful bouts of minor depression?

Professor Kay Redfield Jamison, who wrote the landmark Scientific American article, is an international authority on the subject, both as a psychiatrist and as a person with bipolar.  She observes that manic-depressives in their high or manic state think faster and associate more freely. When manic, people need less sleep, have unusual energy and focus and an inflated self-belief, all of which may allow the production of original work.

Depression may simply be the flip side of the creative manic state, the price artists pay for their bouts of productive work.  But Jamison suggests the bipolar personality may also help artists in a more general sense. ‘The manic-depressive temperament is, in a biological sense, an alert, sensitive system that reacts strongly and swiftly. It responds to the world with a wide range of emotional, perceptual, intellectual, behavioural and energy changes,’ she writes."

I encourage you to read the entire article and share it with anyone you know who swims in an artistic sea.

Why Are Creative People More Prone to Depression?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am acutely aware of this syndrome, since I have experienced it myself. I read Jamieson's book about 15 years ago and anything else that I could lay my hands on. I have been hypomanic, which increased my creativity twofold. Just enough to allow thoughts and feelings unfold sans inhibition. That blocks creativity. I wrote a lot of poetry at that time and still do. But the downside of depression is no walk in the park. I would not wish it on my own worst enemy. Thank God that today there are cures for that. I still get very excited when I accomplish something out of the ordinary. In fact, I like being "out of the ordinary." Life would be quite boring without it.