Is There A Link Between Creativity And Mental Illness?

“Each has his past shut in him like the leaves of a book known to him by heart and his friends can only read the title.” – Virginia Woolf.

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  It is a well-worn perception that creativity and madness are on the same spectrum.   People like Kurt Vonnegut and others were successful not because of their mental illness, but in spite of it. It is hard to work when you are depressed or manic.   Many creative types find themselves disabled by their disorders just as they are inspired by it. Thus, one can clearly find some connection between creativity and mental illness.  

A link bridges the gap between creativity and mental illness

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   Mental issues like manic depression, schizophrenia, and much more can leave the sufferers feeling isolated, lonely and hopeless.   Only a few are caring and sympathetic towards the people with this ongoing battle. And even fewer understand what the sufferers go through.  

Einstein’s famous hair: The story you never knew!

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   It wasn’t all messy for the iconic absent-minded genius.   If you look at the yesteryear picture of Einstein’s, he clearly had a smooth mane at the age of three. So what exactly did he lay the foundation for Genius hair?   People believed that there were a plethora of genius thoughts inside his head. And that pushed the hair follicles out in all directions. Hence, the mad scientist hairstyle came up!  

Shakespeare and madness: Do creativity and mental illness go hand- in- hand?

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“Many that are not mad have, sure, more lack of reason.” -William Shakespeare.   Mental illnesses fascinated Shakespeare. Many of his characters displayed a variety of symptoms from Lear’s madness, Macbeth’s visions,  Jaques’ melancholy, and Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking, to the obsessiveness of Leontes.  

Schizotypy: Less intense version of schizophrenia.

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  Poets and artists have levels of unusual experiences that are higher than controls, and as high as schizophrenia patients.   It is not clear whether healthy creatives have a milder loading on schizotypal traits than people who suffer serious psychopathology, or whether they have an equal loading, but other mediating characteristics.   Most of the existing research by the scientists have concentrated on artistic creativity. And the position of other creative domains is not yet clear.   Different domains of creativity require different cognitive profiles. Researchers associate poetry and art with divergent thinking. Schizophrenia, Affective Disorder, and Mathematics are associated with convergent thinking and autism.  

Neurotic thinking:

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  You are a neurotic thinker when you focus on negative thoughts and feelings and constantly ruminating on things past. Rumination means focusing on a problem for longer than most people would.   By dwelling on the same problem, sometimes single-mindedly, these type of people eventually come up with interesting solutions. And it’s not just a pursuit of a single problem, but neurotic people might be more creative too.   Mostly because neurotic people are highly anxious. You know, in preparation for a threat they literally imagine the worst.   For instance, they still remember that one time when they waved back at someone when that someone was really waving at the person behind you! That scene replays in their head time and again.   But this rehashing can have a more positive aspect as well. According to a study published in The Journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences:

The liking for dramatic imaginings might help creative people imagine solutions most people wouldn’t.

While the idea of the mad genius might be alluring and seductive, it should not be.

Various researchers have found evidence of an association between creativity and mental illness.

The results suggest that artistic creatives and psychiatric patients share a tendency to unusual ideas and experiences. However, a number of questions remain unanswered.

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