People have been asking my opinion on this article and the research behind it. So here it is.
Creativity ‘closely entwined with mental illness’
Are creative people ‘mad’? Is creativity a ‘madness’? Or do they mean that we had all better watch out, because if you’re one of those creative types, you’re probably going to go mad and be depressed, and if you try to ‘get creative’ you may even end up killing yourself.
This is, of course, not what the researchers are saying.
“Lead researcher Dr Simon Kyaga said the findings suggested disorders should be viewed in a new light and that certain traits might be beneficial or desirable.
For example, the restrictive and intense interests of someone with autism and the manic drive of a person with bipolar disorder might provide the necessary focus and determination for genius and creativity.
Similarly, the disordered thoughts associated with schizophrenia might spark the all-important originality element of a masterpiece.”
The fact that lots of famous authors killed themselves, or were depressed, proves little as there are plenty of authors who are happy and still alive. There’s a tendency with statistics to point to the conclusion you want to make.
For me, the danger with the popular media view on this topic is that creativity and mental illness are portrayed as interchangeable. Beth Murphy of the mental health charity Mind agrees, “It is important that we do not romanticise people with mental health problems, who are too often portrayed as struggling creative geniuses”
And by the same token, we shouldn’t label creative people as ‘mad’.
I’ve been introduced on stage as being “totally bonkers, off the wall and crazy mad” which wasn’t really very helpful when all I was really doing was being interesting and entertaining in a unique way, with a guitar. It just shows how totally boring the other speakers on the bill must have been.
The media also often gets cause and effect confused. It may be that a ‘mental illness’ such as bipolar disorder helps an individual in a creative role to be more productive and creative OR it could mean that someone with bipolar disorder seeks out a role in a creative industry. Either way, we may find a higher proportion of people with bipolar disorder in a creative role. It says nothing about a disorder being necessary for that role. However, the research showed that someone working in a creative role is no more likely to have a mental disorder than anyone else, thus nullifying the commonly held inference and making this paragraph, like most journalism on the topic, void.
Here’s another article that makes me a bit cross:
Creative minds ‘mimic schizophrenia’
Which of course is not true. It’s not true because creativity is such a vast human endeavour and schizophrenia is an invented term to label certain types of mental illness conditions. We might as well say “Oranges mimic Tuesdays”. Except that would be totally mad.
It’s not the research that I’m questioning here, but the inferences that are being made.
I think we need to be more careful about the definition of what ‘mental illness’ is. If someone’s condition serves them, supports their work, is part of who they are and causes no long-term internal distress, then I don’t see why the medical profession, the media or anyone else has the right to call a person as having a ‘disorder’ when all they really are, is different.
If someone is suffering and in pain and can’t function in a way that serves them, then that’s a problem, obviously, and treatment may be needed. But if they’re suffering solely because of the way society has labeled them, treats them and doesn’t accommodate them, then that’s wrong.
In an age of political correctness, has society’s prejudice not been eradicated at all but instead changed its style? Has it moved from it being acceptable to discriminate out of malice or fun to discriminating by labelling anything different from a normal standard as being a ‘disorder’ and looking down elitist normal noses with pity at the poor disordered sick people.
It would make more sense if we found someone who was totally boring, who had created nothing, contributed nothing, who had lived a dull life – to be labelled as ‘mentally ill’. I’d say that person was really sick and in need of treatment.
It’s the creative people who innovate, who invent, who drive the human race forward with their discoveries, that save lives, that enrich souls. And for what? So that dull people, who never look up from looking at their shuffling feet can moan that jumping safely from the edge of space is a waste of a Sunday evening when they could have been watching the X-Factor results.
John Lennon once said that “everything is the opposite of what it is” which sounds like a nonsense statement until you think about how often it appears to be true…
If to be creative, I had to drink from the cup of madness and risk insanity, rather than become a norm, a drone, whose life’s purpose was only to remain within the accepted parameters of ordinariness – I’d drink deeply, and accept the highs and the lows as a price worth paying for a life worth living.
Ayd works with people and businesses to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation.
Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.
For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com