Can Depression Help People Be More Creative?
“As a result of it I have felt more things, more deeply; had more experiences, more intensely…”
Psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison has written a number of books, including a memoir, about bipolar disorder. She reportedly first planned her own suicide at 17, and attempted to carry it out at 28.
Can such a profoundly challenging mental health issue like depression actually have some benefit for the many creative people who suffer from it?
Dr. Jamison responded to a question about experiencing bipolar, if she had a choice: “If lithium were not available to me, or didn’t work for me, the answer would be a simple no… and it would be an answer laced with terror.
“But lithium does work for me…Strangely enough, I think I would choose to have it. It’s complicated.
“I honestly believe that as a result of it I have felt more things, more deeply; had more experiences, more intensely; loved more, and have been more loved… laughed more often for having cried more often; appreciated more the springs, for all the winters.”
From my article: Making Good Use of Depression.
Writer Kat Dawkins was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder in 2008, and authors the Psych Central blog “About Her Bipolar Life.” In her post Keeping Creativity Alive with Bipolar Disorder, she comments, “If you’re bipolar, chances are, you’re creative.
“I’ve always had a knack for the arts. I started writing stories as soon as I knew how to put words together. I love music and painting, and I majored in Creative Writing in college. I sing and play bass.”
She notes “Artists and writers may have two to three times more incidences of psychosis, mood disorders, or suicide when compared to those with less-creative professions” and lists a number of artist who are said to have had bipolar disorder, such as Ludwig van Beethoven, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Edvard Munch, Brian Wilson, Kurt Cobain, Russell Brand, DMX, Marilyn Monroe, and others.
Many prominent artists are mentioned by Kay Redfield Jamison in her book Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament.
[But there are critiques of diagnosing long-dead artists, and of some aspects of research by Jamison and others; I will write more about that later.]
Dawkins refers to a study by Stanford University in 2005: More evidence of association between bipolar disorder and artistic creativity, which concluded, “School of Medicine researchers have shown for the first time that a sample of children with bipolar disorder and children at high risk for the disease score higher on a creativity index than healthy children.”
“I think it’s fascinating,” said Kiki Chang, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and co-author of the paper. “There is a reason that many people who have bipolar disorder become very successful, and these findings address the positive aspects of having this illness.”