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Mental Illness & Creativity: The Science

There is a study that was published by The Journal of Psychiatric Research in 2013 that dealt with mental illness, suicide rates, and creativity. In the abstract, the authors state that they had previously released results that showed that "patients with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder and their relatives are overrepresented in creative occupations (Kyaga 2013)." In the 2013 study, they used a new dataset with different disorders and included a larger number of patients in an attempt to validate previously released evidence and results. For this latter study, they included diagnoses including the following: "schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, unipolar depression, anxiety disorders, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, autism, ADHD, anorexia nervosa, and completed suicide (Kyaga 2013)." (Kyaga 2013)

Here is what they found. Rates of people diagnosed with bipolar disorder who worked in creative professions were, indeed, higher. However, people with the other diagnoses were not disproportionately involved in creative professions as opposed to others. (Kyaga 2013)

The authors went on to state, "However, being an author was specifically associated with increased likelihood of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, unipolar depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and suicide (Kyaga 2013)."

They also found, "an association between creative professions and first-degree relatives of patients with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anorexia nervosa, and for siblings of patients with autism (Kyaga 2013)."

It is interesting to note that almost all of those in the study were born in 1958. For continuity, I'm sure that is important. However, I'm not so sure that we should discount events that could have happened during their time of development. Also, it isn't greatly surprising that relatives might have brain similarities, be them genetic or environmental.

What is particularly riveting, though, is the connection between those with bipolar disorder and the arts. It's also interesting that authors are more associated with so many conditions. There are proven connections between mental illness and creativity, at least in these groups. In these instances, whether or not the disorder is a catalyst for the creativity or the creativity is a catalyst for the disorder is unclear.

A Second Study:

The Journal of Research in Personality published a study authored by Daniel Nettle in 2006. The study is titled, "Schizotypy and mental health amongst poets, visual artists, and mathematicians."

"Schizotypal Personality Disorder" is defined as, "a personality disorder characterized by peculiar or eccentric thoughts, behaviors, and patterns of speech, odd beliefs or fantasies, disturbances in the perception of events, difficulty in forming or maintaining close relationships, and a tendency to be suspicious or paranoid (Schizotypal Personality Disorder)."

This is what the researchers found. "The results suggest that artistic creatives and psychiatric patients share a tendency to unusual ideas and experiences, but creative groups are distinguished by the absence of anhedonia and avolition (Nettle 2006)."

As defined by T.H. Ribot, "Anhedonia refers to the reduced ability to experience pleasure (Ribot)." "Avolition" is defined by Psych Central as, "A term used to describe a significant or severe lack of motivation or a pronounced inability to complete purposeful tasks. It is a behavioral symptom rather than a mental health condition (Lebow 2021)."

So, the difference here between the patients and the creatives was their depression. Their thought processes were much the same. They shared unusual ideas and experiences. The defining separation was the absence of anhedonia and avolition, i.e. depression.

This study also had interesting results for those with bipolar disorder, with Nettle stating, "Bipolar patients not only have the divergent thinking of schizotypy, but at least some of the time they avoid the inhibiting negative symptoms by a potentially productive flight into activity (Nettle 2006)." Shapeshifters.

Ultimately, Nettle claims, "The results here provide further confirmation of the link between vulnerability to psychopathology and artistic creativity (Nettle 2006)."

Check out the sources listed below for further reading.

Works Cited:

Kyaga, Simon. "Mental Illness, Suicide and Creativity: 40-Year Prospective Total Population Study." Journal of Psychiatric Research, vol. 47, no. 1, 2013, pp. 83-90, Accessed 11 Jun. 2023.

Lebow, H. (2021). What is Avolition? Retrieved June 30, 2023, from

Nettle, Daniel. "Schizotypy and Mental Health Amongst Poets, Visual Artists, and Mathematicians." Journal of Research in Personality, vol. 40, no. 6, 2006, pp. 876-890, Accessed 11 Jun. 2023.

Ribot T. The Psychology of Emotions. London, UK: W. Scott; 1897[Google Scholar] (Project Gutenburg:

Schizotypal personality disorder. (n.d.). Retrieved June 30, 2023, from


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