Looking At The Glass As Half Full

Thank God for Mental Illness

Thank God for Mental Illness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I found this article on Medscape the other day and the contents of it are weighing heavily on my mind. Throughout my life, I have read articles and interviews that proposed highly intelligent and/or creative people were more likely deemed crazy than the general population. Having a rather high IQ myself, this generalization and it’s implications always bothered me. Being labeled “mad” or “crazy” has typically been associated with negative connotations and consequences.  Why is that, I wonder?

I propose that society stops looking at mental illness as behavioral problems and mental disorders and starts looking at them as alterations in brain circuitry. Addressing these issues from a neurological wiring standpoint will go a long way in reducing the stigma attached to the diagnosis and researching treatments that address neuro function as opposed to abnormal behavior. Some of the very factors that contribute to a diagnosis of mental disease are the same ones that contribute to what society considers giftedness.

If a patient presents with a fever, a doctor does not automatically assume ear infection and begin the recommended treatment. Why then would a patient present with say…..depression…..be automatically treated with antidepressants and assume a behavioral  problem instead of a brain disorder? It’s all in how you look at the glass. There is creativity and genius in what society calls madness. We need to accentuate the positive before we pounce on the so-called abnormal behavior. Let’s remove judgement and explore the neurobiology of this class of illness.

The article I am referring to is below.

Creativity and Mental Illness Link Confirmed

Caroline Cassels

 Oct 24, 2012

New research confirms that mental illness is significantly more common in individuals who are in creative professions.

A 40-year, nested, case-control study of almost 1.2 million patients and their relatives showed that bipolar disorder (BD) is more prevalent among individuals in artistic or scientific professions such as dancing, research, photography, and writing compared with individuals in the general population who are not in these professions.

Further, the study revealed that schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse are more common among authors, and that this group was 50% more likely to die by suicide than the general population.

“If one takes the view that certain phenomena associated with the patient’s illness are beneficial, it opens the way for a new approach to treatment,” lead author Simon Kyaga, MD, who is a consultant in psychiatry and a research fellow in the department of medical epidemiology and biostatistics at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, said in a release.

“In that case, the doctor and patient must come to an agreement on what is to be treated, and at what cost. In psychiatry and medicine generally, there has been a tradition to see the disease in black-and-white terms and to endeavor to treat the patient by removing everything regarded as morbid,” he added.

The study was published online October 11 in the Journal of Psychiatric Research.

Comprehensive Study

According to investigators, previous research into the potential link between creativity and psychopathology has been “hampered by sample size and lack of standardized tools to assess creativity.”

In addition, they note that to be conclusive, any study examining this association should also address patients’ relatives.

The researchers extended their previous 2011 population-based study on the link between creative occupations and schizophrenia, BD, and unipolar depression.

In this new study, the researchers also included schizoaffective disorder, anxiety disorders, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, anorexia, and completed suicide.

Because previous research suggested a high prevalence of psychopathology in authors, the researchers examined this group separately. They also attempted to validate previous findings, showing there is a familial association for creative professions with schizophrenia and BD by using a larger dataset that included patients’ first-, second-, and third-degree relatives.

Finally, they looked at whether the proposed association was influenced by IQ.

More Morbidity in Authors

The investigators analyzed data from Swedish total population registries, in which the occurrence of creative occupations in 1,173,763 patients with mental health disorders and their nondiagnosed relatives were compared with that of matched population control participants.

With the exception of BD, the investigators found no positive link between psychopathology and overall creative professions.

However, the researchers found that authors suffered from schizophrenia more than twice as often as control participants. The investigators report that authors were also more likely to be diagnosed with unipolar depression, anxiety disorders, alcohol abuse, and drug abuse and to die by suicide.

Even after the investigators omitted all authors with any psychiatric diagnosis, they found there was still a trend for authors without diagnosed psychopathology to commit suicide more frequently than control participants (odds ratio [OR], 1.45; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.97 – 2.16; P = .07).

“Thus, regardless of psychopathology, being an author seemed to increase suicide risk,” they write.

The investigators also noted that this study confirmed results from their earlier study, which showed that family members of patients with BD or schizophrenia were “significantly overrepresented” in creative professions.

They also found a link between creative professions and being a sibling of individuals with autism and being a parent or sibling of an individual diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.

Further, the researchers report that IQ was generally higher in people with creative occupations but lower in individuals with psychiatric disorders and their relatives compared with people without a mental health diagnosis.

The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

J Psych Res. Published online October 11, 2012. Abstract                                                                  


10 thoughts on “Looking At The Glass As Half Full

  1. Fascinating info here. My IQ is also high, highly creative person, I do many things well, write, paint, music, math, science, analysis. But I’m also highly sensitive, have anxiety, trouble with social events unless I’m the leader, depression and PTSD. I suffered child abuse. I think I would have some of my issues just from being smart, and not fitting in. And yes, antidepressants will not cure everything, we need much better ways to analyze mental illness and support the specific troubles. I think that may be the biggest triumph I will see in my lifetime, if we continue with the research, and apply both compassion and real science to making us “crazy” people feel better.

    • I agree. I have heard from many patients throughout my adult life who feel that psych meds not only help manage their troubling symptoms, but also take away their creative spark. They have likened it to radiation treatment in that it kills the “good stuff” while minimizing “the bad”.

  2. WordsFallFromMyEyes says:

    EXCELLENT EXCELLENT EXCELLENT article & ‘expose’. Your lead in was great, too – because you totally own it, the ‘crazy’, by calling yourself WellCallMeCrazy.

    I ALWAYS felt odd at school, & was the joker, but was also the absent depressed. I couldn’t bare people to see me depressed, hence hid away.

    ‘Mentally ill’ do have behavioural problems, though – yes, they are “alternatively wired” as you say, but they do have behavioural problems… well, “problems” if being antisocial or weirdly social is a problem. And it is!!

    Einstein saves us all! I don’t know what my IQ is, have never found out, but I don’t think it’s anything great, so I can’t join you two above. But creative… cannot live without.

  3. I want to comment but I’m afraid I’ll write too much. I’ll try and keep it short. I’ve worked in the field of mental health for the past 25 years. I’ve worked with every population and in every setting imaginable; psych hospitals, group homes, counseling agencies, at home counseling, etc. It’s society that hasn’t caught on, mental health professionals know a great deal. I used to do assessments for one of the hospitals I worked in. I’d diagnose individuals to see what their needs were.
    Basically, there are those with chemical imbalance, those with situational issues which have caused stress, anxiety, depression, etc., and those with both. An overlap. Many people have difficulty COPING. Those with chemical imbalance often avoid the psychiatrist and medication route. Instead, they self medicate. Some of the self medicating techniques are the obvious, drugs, alcohol, food, exercise, etc. I also think these individuals are likely to turn to the arts as a way to release tension and self soothe (Painting, photography, writing, music, etc.) My mom is Bi-polar and is very creative. She likes her creative highs and so she avoids taking meds even though members of my family don’t enjoy being around her when she’s a little manic. People stay away so it’s natural for her to gravitate to solo activities, especially ones that provide a creative outlet.
    So back to your post. The reason many people with mental illness are creative/ genius is chemical but also it’s a way of self-medicating and self-soothing. There’s an overflow of emotion/thought and the arts are a natural place for this overflow to get expressed in a positive way. I could also see swimming, running, walking, bike riding, etc. solo sports as another way to self-medicate.
    When people have suffered in relationships they have a tendency to look for emotional safety. They are usually quiet, reserved, shy, inward sorts of people not willing to risk getting hurt again. My husband is this way as he suffered great abuse as a child. He is also a writer. He tells me that he likes to rage on the page.
    So my point is, that creative outlets, the arts, etc. can serve those who are suffering with emotional/ mental illness. It’s a good fit. It would be difficult to separate the positive correlation of this population who uses the arts with those who are born with those capacities.

  4. Ray's Mom says:

    Thought provoking.

    • My beloved grandma came out of ICU for severe pneumonia and was never the same. She came home with signs of dementia, anxiety, and depression…..symptoms she had never exhibited prior……and never received appropriate treatment. We were told “that’s just what happens when older people get real sick.” Phooey. That doesn’t have to be “just what happens”.

      • Ray's Mom says:

        So true. Hospital and nursing home care varies significantly with the frequency of family or concerned friend visits. Unfortunate, but true.

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