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Study Says Creative People Are A Little Crazy

“Creative” people are more likely to be mentally ill, so says a Swedish study of more than 1 million people that was published last year.

According to the BBC’s summary of the study, “Writers had a higher risk of anxiety and bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, unipolar depression, and substance abuse, the Swedish researchers at the Karolinska Institute found.”

They were almost twice as likely as the general population to kill themselves.

Hooray for being a writer! No wonder we hate rejection!

The dancers and photographers in the study were also more likely to have bipolar disorder.

Well that’s encouraging. But it really isn’t shocking. I’m wondering if the level of talent somehow increases the level of mental instability—see, Hemingway, Woolf, David Foster Wallace, Malcolm Lowry, and so on.

It’s a trade off to some degree, says the lead researcher, as some of the qualities of these mental illnesses can actually have a beneficial effect. For instance, “the restrictive and intense interests of someone with autism and the manic drive of a person with bipolar disorder might provide the necessary focus and determination for genius and creativity. Similarly, the disordered thoughts associated with schizophrenia might spark the all-important originality element of a masterpiece.”

Was Picasso a little crazy?

Another researcher comments, “It is important that we do not romanticise people with mental health problems, who are too often portrayed as struggling creative geniuses.”

Preach it. That’s such a Hollywood sham—the whole writer as a tortured genius bit.

I’m even guilty of this. When I posted about Hunter S. Thompson’s daily routine, the temptation is to say “Wow. That guy is superhuman.” But, really, he must have lived an extraordinarily sad life to resort to that much medication and alcohol.

So why are “creatives”–which is such a broad term, by the way–more prone to mental illness? Your thoughts?

(Source: BBC)

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

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45 Comments Post a comment
  1. Being normal. Some people are better at this than others.

    Like

    March 13, 2013
  2. Serenity #

    Reblogged this on Serenity's Musings.

    Like

    March 13, 2013
  3. As for writers, most adults would think creating worlds and imaginary friends past the age of 8 is pretty “crazy,” so maybe it comes with the territory?

    Like

    March 13, 2013
  4. I would phrase it the other way and say that the mentally ill are more prone to creativity. I do not think mental stability or happiness precludes the inherent trait of creativity but as someone who has spent time on psychiatric wards the prevelance of writers, artists and musicians is extraordinary.

    Like

    March 13, 2013
  5. erinorange #

    In terms of writers – they’re constantly going within themselves and spending time alone – it can’t be healthy, I guess it is a kind of trade off. I do wonder whether it’s worth it when writing my own blog – should I think of things to write and spend time doing so, or just ‘live’.

    Like

    March 13, 2013
  6. Allowing yourself freedom to be creative sometimes also allows you to glimpse truths which ‘normal’ people would never notice, one of these being that ‘normal’ doesn’t really exist as a fixed state. Being creative is a constant search for meaning and connections, which can be exhausting and ultimately destructive, and therefore must regularly be balanced with something mundane like a nice cup of tea.

    Like

    March 13, 2013
  7. Mental illness, in my view, is a matter of degrees. I can’t think of anyone that, according to a textbook, is 100% mentally healthy. I guess this means there is ‘art’ in everyone.

    Like

    March 13, 2013
    • so true

      Like

      March 13, 2013
    • natsgonenuts #

      I agree. There is no 100% sanity.

      Like

      March 13, 2013
    • Yep. As to that last line, that’s why I can stand it when people address an article or a post only to “artists.” Really, we’re all artists. It’s not some exclusive group.

      Like

      March 13, 2013
  8. I would say they are much more likely to be deemed as unstable etc whatever you want to call it; because they are often the originators of original thought in their chosen profession. Just think of the suggestion that the world was round, when the population thought it was flat. Original thought is not commonly accepted, it is dismissed as crazy, ridiculous the person is vilified outcasted for their beliefs maybe it is the reaction to the original thought that causes the mental illness in the person. If that is the case it tips the whole idea on its head doesn’t it?

    Like

    March 13, 2013
    • That reminds me of the Beautiful Mind movie with Russell Crowe. Good points.

      Like

      March 13, 2013
    • I like this and I think it rings true. I would fear calling many of these people unstable when indeed they may think and look at the world a little differently to others and are thus deemed crazy – away from the norm. And more often than not, I think it is a gift to see the world in other ways. This is a really great article, Robert. I loved reading it and it’s a beautiful mystery like A Beautiful Mind. There are so many different ways to look at “creative genius” and “crazy creatives”. It is hard to be creative when you have to be a certain kind or to resonate with people in a certain way to be “successful”/”make money” with “crazy creativity”… and I think the pressure of not having complete security in creative fields may also make people a little bananas.

      Like

      April 7, 2013
  9. natsgonenuts #

    I’m a designer AND a writer, and this ain’t motivating. I hope my sanity stays with me.

    Like

    March 13, 2013
  10. We’re all mad in our own way…

    Like

    March 13, 2013
  11. I think that creative people have a lot going on in their brains and that sometimes it can get more than a little too loud in there. I also think that creative people, particulary writers, spend a lot of time trying to put themselves in other people’s shoes, whilst trying to create charactes and write about events/lifystyles outside of their own world and experiences. I think that this can lead to them feeling a lot of things more intensly, than others might, which may be why they need to express themselves through their art, in the first place, but unfortunately they can become entangled in the sorrows of others.

    Like

    March 13, 2013
  12. Great, thought-provoking post as always, Robert. This is something I have often thought about as well after reading the biographies of many famous creative types. Writers, actors, artists- so many of them had really traumatic childhoods, substance abuse problems, unhappy marriages or just struggled with being generally ‘unlucky.’

    I think many artists see the world in a different way to most people and this feeling of always being a little out of touch with the real world can cause a lot of loneliness- particularly for those artists who work by themselves most of the time ie. painters, writers etc.

    Like

    March 13, 2013
  13. Josh Mahler #

    Reblogged this on The Josh Mahler Reader.

    Like

    March 13, 2013
  14. Other way around. Crazy people tend to be more creative. Crazy is outside the norm and creativity is expression outside the norm. Why surprisingf?

    Like

    March 13, 2013
  15. I’ve long detested the term “creativity.” As you suggest, crazy opening may be far more fitting. And nobody can teach that. (Contrary to all those creative writing courses being offered.)

    Like

    March 13, 2013
  16. I haven’t had the chance to read your blog in over a year; I’m so glad you’re still around!

    And not to make this sound casual, but: “yes,” I think we are a little different. I’m often surprised that the way I think about things/life causes alarm in my family, yet doesn’t get any kind of response (other than approval) from the friends I have in the business that keeps me occupied.

    Like

    March 13, 2013
  17. Swedes are just saying what we all know, but everyone is a ‘little’crazy’, writers just yell it louder than others. Just saying. Thank goodness for craziness anyway, we’re not talking psycho here

    Like

    March 14, 2013
  18. This might sound a little dramatic, but I think it has to do with the fact that so much of our culture is on the shoulders of the creative. It is our job to carry on the culture that has come before us and to communicate the culture we are currently living in. We are sharing the hard things. We are questioning the universe, what it means to live in the world today. In order to do this we have to expose ourselves to a lot of emotion, to a lot of different situations, which can be trying. Not only that, but being creative requires a certain amount of focus and a lot of individuality. Being focused and being true to yourself is a hard thing to do. Being an artist is just very mentally trying, but also totally worth it if you are happy in what you are doing. It’s a frustrating kind of a paradox.

    Like

    March 14, 2013
  19. rogerradcliffe #

    Well, what if writers weren’t crazy? The works of deviant minded artists and authors provides readers with a view of the world (or worlds created) that is too absurd for the “normal” human being to consider comfortably. We all want the chaos, the outlandishness, the deviance…the best authors and artists are crazy because they have the courage to tap into that source of creativity we all crave at heart.

    Like

    March 14, 2013
  20. Reblogged this on Little Father Time.

    Like

    March 15, 2013
  21. After hanging out with a hundred kids over the past 4 days in a small space, I’d say that we have “the madness” socialized out of us as we age. Those of us who refuse to have our “madness” socialized tend to choose artistic professions.

    That’s one theory. Another is that the genetic coding for “madness” and “creativity” lie in the same bed.

    But I do think that we are all “mad” in our own ways, just as we are all creative in our own ways. Some of us learn to suppress both of these “traits” much better than others, through the process of socialization.

    Like

    March 17, 2013
  22. R. D. Laing and other humanist-influenced psychologists theorized that people afflicted with mental disorders may be interpreting a more “honest” worldview: they see the undesirable aspects of life amplified and lack the mental tools for weeding through them. While we now know, due to neurological advancements, that such disorders do have a biochemical source, it’s interesting to consider people who have mental “disorders” as seeing the world in a different light, which can both provide fuel for creative processes and drive them into the varying directions of mania and depression.

    Like

    March 18, 2013
  23. hackershater #

    oh my God, I don’t want to be creative. I want to live!:))

    Like

    March 21, 2013
    • rogerradcliffe #

      How creative of you to say so!

      Like

      March 21, 2013
  24. most of the people who live in this world are slightly crazy, few are normal, and more should be creative. the crazier, the better if you ask me. great post!

    Like

    March 25, 2013
  25. As a writer who was diagnosed with bipolar schizophrenia three years ago, I find this discussion very interesting. It almost seems to be a case of which came first, the egg or the chicken? For myself personally, I write because I can’t not write. I do not take medication and the best way for me to regulate my symptoms is by writing. Something about the process helps mitigate the depression and silence the constant voices. I won’t pretend to understand how it works, only that it does.

    Thank you Athena for linking me to such an interesting blog!

    Like

    March 25, 2013
  26. bhanufix #

    Reblogged this on bhanupoudyal.

    Like

    March 31, 2013
  27. We are all mad here. Loved this article!

    Like

    April 7, 2013
  28. Reblogged this on Anchor Away and Setting Sail and commented:
    Well, this is a fun read! 😀
    Really gives me hope for the future…haha

    Like

    April 8, 2013
  29. The ‘creative’ people and the others live in the same world. The only difference is the way, the intensity with which they experience it. Example, a person who experiences visual impulses intensely would probably be a painter or a photographer. Many times they get absorbed by this deeper/different way of ‘taking in’ the world they tend to ignore the way other people experience the same things. Unfortunately, 99% of the world is made up these ‘other’ people who dictate the limits of ‘normalcy’ in a civilization. In other words, the ‘average’ or more harshly truthful ‘mediocrity’. Anyone who falls beyond the said population’s ‘normal limits’ even on the brighter side is considered ‘abnormal’/’crazy’.. Probably it is the majority’s way to make peace with the fact that superior minds exist.
    That being said, by definition, a condition is considered as a disease, when it starts interfering with the routine functioning of the subject. As long as he is okay, does’nt matter if someone considers him ‘a little crazy’.. A creater can continue to just dazzle us with his whimsy..

    Like

    July 5, 2013
  30. I’m a writer, but it took me awhile to figure that out. I definitely have a peculiar mind but have always been aware of it. 🙂 Thanks for the post – a creative minded person who has accepted my odd intricacies & eccentricities.

    Liked by 1 person

    October 25, 2014
  31. Reblogged this on The Hustle How-to and commented:
    This is an interesting connection to think about. It realistically explains why many of the people in my life who are really passionate about their hustles are also the ones who are the most depressed/unstable.

    Like

    December 25, 2016

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