From van Gogh and Beethoven to Darwin and Plath, the number of creative geniuses that have suffered from mental health issues has long sparked the debate – is there a tie between creativity and mental health? Well, according to a new study published in The British Journal of Psychiatry there is, as creatives are more likely to suffer from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression than the rest of the population.
Previous research has often been limited due to issues like small samples sizes, however, this new study looked at the health records of the whole of Sweden – providing a sample of almost 4.5 million people. The researchers then took into account whether these people studied an artistic subject – like music or drama – at university.
Strangely enough, those with artsy degrees were 90 percent more likely to be hospitalized for schizophrenia than their less creative counterparts. The hospitalizations were most likely to happen at some point during their 30s.
What’s more, artists were 62 percent more likely to be admitted to hospital due to bipolar disorder and 39 percent more likely to go to hospital for depression. The researchers determined that it wasn’t simply the act of going to university that affected mental health, as those with law degrees did not have higher rates of these illnesses than the general population. Variables like IQ were also taken into account.
This is not the first study to find a link between mental health and creativity. For example, in 2010 brain scans revealed similarities between the thought pathways of schizophrenics and very creative people. Meanwhile, a 2015 study found that creative people have a raised risk of both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. However, a 2012 study found that just writers are at a higher risk.
So why does this connection exist?
Well, it’s still not really clear. It could be that creative people are more likely to think deeply and be emotionally unstable, making them more vulnerable to conditions like depression. Meanwhile, bouts of productivity and high energy are linked to both creativity and bipolar disorder. Lead author James McCabe told New Scientistthat the genetics behind creativity might also influence mental health.
“Creativity often involves linking ideas or concepts in ways that other people wouldn’t think of,” he told New Scientist. “But that’s similar to how delusions work – for example, seeing a connection between the color of someone’s clothes and being part of an MI5 conspiracy.”
However, while creative people are naturally more likely to study art subjects, many creative people do not, so the new study is limited in that it used degree subject as the sole measure of creativity.
However, taking previous research into account too, there does appear to be some sort of link. Still, it’s important to remember that the rates of conditions like schizophrenia are still very low even among creative people, so if you are an artist yourself, there’s no need to worry.