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Creativity and Bipolar Disorder, Is There A Relationship?

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Recently, someone stated that people with Bipolar Disorder are creative. Famous people past and present are cited as evidence and proof that this is true. However, deductive reasoning may be at work here leading to false conclusions. It goes something like this:

Example 1:
          Creative People have Bipolar Disorder,
          John is a creative person,
          John has a Bipolar Disorder.

The trouble is that, when examined, John does not have a Bipolar Disorder.

Example 2:
          People with Bipolar Disorder are Creative,
          Thom has a Bipolar Disorder,
          Thom is creative.

The trouble is that, when examined, Thom is not a creative person.

Kay Redfield Jamison, PhD, Clinical Psychologist, has a Bipolar Disorder that she wrote about in her book, “Touched With Fire, manic depressive illness and the artistic temperament” She argues that there is a positive correlation between having a Bipolar Disorder and being creative. She cites many examples among artists and writers as examples to support her hypothesis. However, this prolific writer was unable to write anything until her bipolar cycles were under control with mood stabilizing medications.

Nevertheless, there is evidence of a positive correlation between those with this affective disorder and creativity. People like Vincent Van Gogh, Virginia Wolf, Winston Churchill, and many present day actors, writers, painters and political leaders. Psychologists and psychiatrists debate both sides of the issue with conflicting conclusions about this question.

There is one thing that can be said about this mental illness and it’s that, since so many celebraties have publicized their Bipolar diagnosis, it has lost some of it’s stigma.

It’s important to keep in mind that, just because some famous people have opened up about their illness, that there are many more individual in homeless shelters, on the streets and who are poverty stricken because of this illness. If some people who have this affective disorder are creative geniuses it may be due more to their I.Q. than any other factor.

Besides intelligence as a factor important for creative thinking, it may just be that there are levels of Bipolar Disorder. As with so many illnesses, the impact may have to do with how crippling the symptoms are. Much like autism being a spectrum disorder, Bipolar may fall along it’s own spectrum. In other words, the worse the symptoms the greater the inability to work and function on any level.
Also remember that Van Gogh committed suicide and Churchill was often paralyzed by deep depression.

So, is there a relationship between being having a Bipolar Disorder and creativity? There is for some but not all with this mood disorder. Don’t wish you could have illness under the false belief that it would make you a creative genius.

There is one statement I can make directly and it’s that, if you suspect you have this disorder, speak to your physician.

Your comments and questions are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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