“No great genius has ever existed without some touch of madness.” – Aristotle

All this week I’ve been inspired to write about creativity and mental health, or more precisely mental illness, following a piece of research published in the Journal of Psychiatric  Research by a Swedish  team led by Dr Simon Kyaga.

Kyaga has long held the belief that madness and genius are part of the same continuum (though he would put it more subtly than that!), and as you can see from the quotation above he is not the first to think it.

Now, after a study involving more than a million subjects, he and his team have shown that there is a higher risk of anxiety and bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, unipolar depression, and substance abuse among writers and their families.  Dancers and photographers are also more likely to have bipolar disorder.  What hope for photo-bloggers then?

Stephen Fry has done much to remove the stigma associated with such a diagnosis, though the understanding of mental illness is still in its infancy, both in the medical profession and the population at large.  (See one of my earlier blogs on the matter here).

Kyaga’s research may help in developing that understanding further perhaps through weighing the losses and gains of treatment, though I note that the mental health charity Mind cautioned against romanticising such conditions.  Nevertheless the list of sufferers who have been great writers includes Hans Christian Anderson and Graham Greene, Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf, Jack Kerouac and even Winston Churchill.

One wonders how history may have differed had Churchill been stigmatised as a depressive instead of revered as a great leader.

The trouble with wanting to write about this was my need to publish a portrait alongside it.  Who could I photograph and put here without conclusions begin drawn about their sanity?

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3 thoughts on “Thinking Differently

  1. Reblogged this on Jennifer Nichole Wells and commented:
    This post is so very intriguing. I have noticed over the years how many of the artists I admire were depressed or bi-polar or something of the sort.
    For quite some time I’ve struggled with stomach issues. Anything I ate made me sick. After tons of tests my doctor decided to lable my condition as IBS. After trying me on 3 different IBS medications (the first with put me to sleep for 30 hours, the second which made it entirely hard to concentrate on anything and the 3rd which made me spacey, forgetful and quite drowsy) she prescribed anti-depressants. The aim is to target the sarotonin in my brain which is connected to stess.
    However, I’ve been noticing that while I’m do world’s better health wise, my creativity has been virtually nonexistant. Could there be a connection? or can my lack of creativity simply be chalked up to my recent bout of strep and my concentraion on my midterms?

    1. Very interesting response Jennifer. It will be interesting to see if serotonin inhibitors by alleviating the the issue also take away the “different thinking” that powered the creative response in the first place. As I said in my piece the science in these matters is still developing so who knows what we still have to learn!

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