“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?
- More Evidence Linking Creativity, Mental Illness (news.health.com)