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Creativity and Mental Illness, Bipolar Disorder and the Arts

Creativity and Mental Illness

Creativity and Mental Illness, Bipolar Disorder and the Arts

It is estimated that at least 2.4% of the world’s population suffers from creativity and mental illness. However, in arts-related circles, this percentage tends to increase markedly.


  • This situation is suffered by 2.4% of the global population.
  • Mental health and creativity have always been interlinked
  • Many artists refuse treatment to avoid losing their value.

The expressiveness of famous artists such as Sting and Robin Williams allows us to understand creativity and mental illness through their stories better.

A small dose of lithium salt used to treat patients with bipolarity and acute depression could reduce suicides, depression and also help reduce neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Creativity and Mental Illness

A study on American musicians revealed that life expectancy is influenced by the musical genre to which they are dedicated and that the category, in general, has lower longevity than the rest of the population. What are the scopes of this research?

He was an accomplished jazz player until a brain malformation forced almost all of his guitar memories and knowledge to be removed. Relearning the guitar brought him back to the top and allowed him to regain his past.

Bipolar Disorder: The Importance of a Timely Diagnosis

The lack of information, the fear of social rejection, and acceptance of the disease make the diagnosis of this severe chronic pathology, on average, eight years after the clinical picture appeared. This prevents access to the correct treatment that can save a lot of suffering.

Before we begin, it is essential to clarify something: not all bipolar are creative geniuses, and not all creative geniuses are bipolar.

If there are no doubts about this fallacy of causality, we can start with the article.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

According to estimates, Bipolar Disorder (formerly known as manic-depressive illness) is a disease that affects at least 2.4% of the world’s population. It is an affective disorder characterized by drastic changes in mood, in which the patient abruptly goes from states of euphoria and energy to periods of depression and anguish. Days, weeks, or even months can pass between one state and another. In some cases, both states explode together, leading the patient to what is known as a mixed state.

Unlike what many believe, bipolarity is not going through simple mood swings. People with creativity and mental illness can go through periods of high productivity. They sleep little, make decisions impulsively, and have little control of their temper—followed by periods of sadness, fatigue, eating problems, social withdrawal, low spirits, and suicidal thoughts. The intensity of these changes also depends on the type of Bipolar Disorder.

Science has not yet been able to determine precisely what are the factors that cause it. However, it has been established that chemical and hormonal imbalances in the brain, added to genetics and environmental factors, play a vital role in the appearance of the disorder.

Although there is no cure for creativity and mental illness, its symptoms can be combated to ensure that the patient leads a healthy and integrated life. Treatment is mainly carried out through drugs, although psychology, alternative medicine, and occupational therapy have proven to be good allies in complementing psychiatry in combating symptoms.

Bipolar Disorder and Genius

On March 30, the International Day of Bipolar Disorder was celebrated worldwide, on the occasion of the Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh. Psychiatric experts have studied Van Gogh posthumously through his work and letters written to his brother. They have concluded that the famous artist most likely had creativity and mental illness during his life.

Van Gogh is one of the many faces in art and culture that make up the list of patients with Bipolar Disorder. Edgar Allan Poe, Michelangelo, and Piotr Tchaikovsky are presumed to have had it, and even today, several artists have revealed their illness.

This apparent relationship between creativity and mental illness appears to be nothing new. Already in Antiquity, Plato and Aristotle reflected on the nature of the creative state and its relationship with “madness,” as it was understood at the time.

While Plato affirmed that poetic genius was related to states of emotional intensity (“the poet is incapable of producing as long as enthusiasm does not drag him out of himself”), Aristotle intuited that creativity was related to melancholy. In his own words: “For what reason are all those who have been exceptional men, as far as philosophy, state science, poetry or the arts are concerned, are manifestly melancholic?”

Modern science has managed to establish specific hypotheses to understand why creativity and mental illness happens.

Indeed, creativity and mental illness cannot be associated exclusively with a specific personality type, so this information must be understood with discretion and responsibility.

The need to escape the depressive state (to “exorcise the demons”) is one of the first reasons why those who suffer from bipolarity channel their illness through art. Going through periods of high creativity and productivity help make their careers prolific in many cases.

However, this also has its negative side: once the work has been presented, the song has been performed, or the book has been published, the artist is again subjected to the swing of bipolarity, exposed to falling into a depressive episode without the adrenaline that kept him “up” when creating. In comedians, such as Robin Williams, this phenomenon is known as the sad clown syndrome.

British musician Sting is another famous artist who has publicly acknowledged his creativity and mental illness. During his first stint with The Police, he relates that suicidal ideations haunted him constantly. His song Lithium sunset talks about how lithium-based medications help him fight the deep pain he suffers during his depressive episodes.

Many artists with creativity and mental illness refuse to take their medications for fear of losing their creative abilities. By being medicated with products that “lift” their lows and calm the states of euphoria, the creative sparks are “flattened,” so they choose to live with the symptoms of bipolarity so as not to lose their gifts.

There are ways, however, to combat creative blockage while still creating and without giving up treatment. The American musician Jason Ricci, for example, has developed a method of creative inspiration to be able to continue making music, through logical-mathematical skills, instead of the traditional emotional-artistic mechanisms.

The human mind is a field in which there are still many questions and few answers. However, we must understand the scope of diseases that are closer than we think. If someone close to you tells you that they are suffering from depression or bipolar disorder, support them. Nobody questions you when you have a cold or hypertension, so don’t do the same with those with psychiatric disorders.