Skip to content
Brain is thinking about creativity using icons

Is There A Link Between Creativity and Mental Illness?

When it comes to understanding the science behind the brain’s creativity; decoding the human intellect is a never ending search for answers. Aside from the brain’s extraordinary complex makeup, research continues to evolve in an effort to understand how imagination sparks human creativity.

Science Points To A Connection

Cognitive psychologists believe imagination comes from multiple regions of the brain. These regions process thoughts differently. Yet within these regions, multiple areas play an integral role in coordinating thoughts through a series of networked connections. These connections then follow a sequence of activities; where questions to inquires lead to a solutions.

Clarity comes when a sudden change in emotion sparks an “ah-ha” moment. This insight often occurs when least expected. Whether this insight solves a physical problem or whittles away a deep dilemma, the execution usually delivers an ideal solution. Through testing and further execution, similar results maybe concluded. It’s here where others can benefit from the creator’s vision.

What Triggers Imagination

Creativity starts with imagination. Science has concluded that mental changes within the brain, caused by anxiety, depression, substance-use or schizophrenia, can trigger episodes of intense imagination. While this is NOT always the case—since creativity can come from natural talent and art education—research points to a connection of mental changes which ignite creativity. Ironically, some well-known artists, musicians, and playwrights have admittedly attributed their creative talent and master pieces to mental changes they have experienced.

Well-Known Creatives Who Struggled With Mental Illness

In 1812, the first father of American psychiatry, Benjamin Rush, who was also the signer of the Declaration of Independence, recorded the earliest known notes regarding manic behavior. He wrote, ” . . . when patients are manic, their senses of hearing and seeing are uncommonly acute.” Through his observations, he heightened mental illness. The attention paid to this mental disorder increased physician awareness.

In Time magazine’s special edition, “The Science of Creativity” February 2019, an article entitled “The Fine Madness” attributes well-known creatives to their renowned works of art. It points out poets who grappled with bouts of mental illness included:

  • Robert Frost (depression)
  • Virginia Woolf (depression and bipolar disorder)
  • Tennessee Williams (depression)

Even the novelist Ernest Hemingway found himself struggling with mental illness (depression and bipolar disorder) before taking his own life.

While the link between creativity and mental illness has inevitably beset famous artists, mathematicians, inventors and musicians—their mental state has become a factor of profound research. Articles throughout the years have openly alleged many artists struggled with their own instability including:

  • Vincent Van Gogh (depression and bipolar disorder)
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (depression)
  • Charles Darwin (depression)
  • Michelangelo (compulsive disorder and Autism)
  • Ludwig van Beethoven (bipolar disorder)
  • Isaac Newton (bipolar disorder)
  • Leonardo da Vinci (dyslexia)
  • Edgar Allen Poe (depression and alcoholism)
  • Pablo Picasso (depression)

In addition, it’s well-known that the era between 1940s–1960s faced hard times. Manic breakdowns, depression, addiction, alcoholism, and suicide, plagued this era.

At one point the Time article addresses the question, “Is there a fundamental link between “madness” and creativity? The answer is yes. Mainly because studies since the mid-20th century reveal a higher link between writers, artists, and musicians, then in the general population.”

Interpreting The Information

In 2014 researches at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute found people who worked in the creative arts (writing, visual arts, dance, photography, etc.) had a higher likelihood of a family history attributed to schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and autism.

Cognitive psychologist have considered many questions which is why their data points to a link between creativity and mental illness.

In essence, mental illness whether it be natural or brought on by an outside dependency like drugs or alcohol, speeds up the brain’s activity. In this state, the brain processes imagery, words, and thoughts faster making discovery and risk-taking more possible.

Throughout the course of history, creativity has given life to many well-know works of art. But the question becomes, “How do we decipher whether the credit is due to the creator’s natural talent or intellect; or brought on by the brain’s chemical in balance?

Would the creator have taken such a risk, without the component of mental instability? Would the creator have even brought their idea to life?

When the brain experiences a change in its way of thinking—like speeding up it’s mental state—the outcome has influenced changes within our world. But these world changes have benefited science, inspired novels, created masterpieces, and have advanced technology. In essence, we all have benefited from a creator’s good fortune, no matter how they arrived at the final outcome. Our society has given credit to the creator. . . especially when the underlying factor—mental illness—is often too taboo to discuss.

While there’s still much to learn about the brain’s behavior, scientist and cognitive psychologist still work to decode its miraculous makeup. Ironically as researchers work to find answers to their own intriguing questions; they explore their own brains—which hold the answers to their most curious questions.

This Post Has One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back To Top