Creative Writers and Bipolar Disorder
In 1987 a small research study by NC Andreasen from the University of Iowa was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry. This study found that among creative writers, a larger percentage had an affective disorder - mainly bipolar - than the general population.
Although this was a small study, it’s important to note that not only were those with bipolar disorder deemed more creative, but so were their first-degree relatives. These relatives were more likely to have an affective disorder, increased creativity or both.
Negative Mood and Increased Creativity
Modupe Akinola and Wendy Berry Mended of Harvard University published a short paper on the connection between mood disorders, negative emotions and creativity. Both individual and situational characteristics appear to increase creativity in individuals with bipolar disorder.
Individual characteristics that may lead to more creativity in writing include being impulsive, emotionally sensitive and introverted. This allows the individual to think deeper about their feelings and express them more creatively whether in writing or another art form.
Situational factors that affect mood, either positively or negatively, have also been found to enhance creativity. Situational factors could include social rejection, break-ups or divorce, moving or even physical illness. Individuals with bipolar disorder may be more affected by situations that enhance emotions, as feelings may be experienced more profoundly by these individuals.
How Can Mood Affect Creativity?
For the Harvard study, it was found that social rejection led to more creativity in the subjects, especially individuals with a biological predisposition to affective mood disorder, such as depression and bipolar disorder.
The researchers felt that perhaps negative thinking allows creativity to flow unhindered while the brain is focusing on the negative thoughts or rejection. It could even be that negative thoughts stimulate a person to try harder to improve.
It could also be that manic episodes might increase output which would allow for some of the work produced to be more creative. This writer feels that mania may also let the individual be more open to possibilities that would be considered more creative.
Importance of Studies Linking Creativity and Bipolar Disorder
Sometimes people are often reluctant to seek treatment for mood disorders as they may not realize they have a problem or they are worried about the stigma of being labeled with a mental illness. With more knowledge and understanding, friends and relatives can offer encouragement for these people to seek the help if it is needed. Pointing out the increased creativity of an individual may help them feel they still have something to offer regardless of a label.
Although it is important to detect mental illness, this writer believes these studies will do more to benefit treatment options for individuals with bipolar disorder. Mental help providers can use this information to offer ideas for more creative endeavors in their patients with bipolar disorder to help alleviate symptoms. By advising a creative outlet for extreme emotions, providers can offer a form a catharsis for those with bipolar disorder and quite possibly encourage a new artist in the making.
This author has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and is an independently published poet. Poetry, and more recently oil pastels, has given her an expressive outlet that has helped stabilize her extreme moods.
NC Andreasen, Creativity and mental illness prevalence rates in writers and their first-degree relatives, https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/abstract/144/10/1288
Modupe Akinola and Wendy Berry Mendes, The Dark Side of Creativity: Biological Vulnerability and Negative Emotions Lead to Greater Artistic Creativity, https://psp.sagepub.com/content/34/12/1677.full.pdf+html