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Creativity and Mental Illness: Contradictory Correlation

by admin on November 14, 2014

Throughout history there have been many examples of notable creative individuals who were troubled by mental illness.  Classical greats such as Frédéric Chopin and Robert Schumann were greatly affected by personality disorders, though there is not enough evidence to determine exactly what affected them. Great Political leaders such as Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler suffered from mental illness, but managed to have ideas so great that they affected the world immensely forever. We can see similar traits in modern musical heroes, such as Kurt Cobain, who suffered from bipolar disorder.  Clearly there is some sort of correlation between mood disorders and creative genius, but the idea that mental illness positively affects one’s creativity is disputed. Many studies have been done on the subject, many of which were methodologically flawed. The general consensus is that depressive and hypomanic episodes linked to multiple disorders (most commonly bipolar) do not positively affect the creativity of an individual, though many researchers agree that there is some sort of correlation regardless. So if mental illness doesn’t affect creativity, why is there such a positive correlation?

If one were to examine the life of Robert Schumann closely, they would notice a trend in the amount of pieces written in every year of his life that closely represents characteristics of bipolar disorder. In years when he was notably depressed, he wrote very few pieces, but during years where he was notably manic, he wrote many compositions, but that is only one effect of his mental illness on his music. Other ideas state that the artist could be drawing creativity from experiencing such emotional extremes, such as suicide attempts caused by severe depression, or extreme elation and recklessness caused by hypomanic episodes. It is thought that by experiencing these things that someone with a mood disorder experiences emotions on a much larger scale than the average person leading to an increased level of creativity.

While we know that Robert Schumann was a great composer, and that the manic-depressive episodes he suffered throughout his life affected the creation of his music, one could say that his disorder did not always affect the music positively.  Most of Schumann’s pieces were composed during his hypomanic phases, but critics say that the mania led him to write pieces that weren’t necessarily as good as a result of the recklessness that it caused. Critics of disorder-based creativity would also say that the romanticizing of mental illness in artists is detrimental overall to solving the issue of mental health disorders. Some artists with mood disorders even claim that being in an affective state hurts their creativity and are most creative when in a stable mood. Also, there is the possibility that an already high level of creativity in an individual could lead to mental illness, instead of being caused by it.

Despite the obvious correlation between mental illness and creative “geniuses” such as Chopin, Schumann, Cobain, and many others, there remains very little evidence that creativity is positively affected by mental illness. Whether or not creativity is directly affected by mental illness, it is clear that they are in some mysterious way related.

Written by Joshua Sharpe


Works Cited

Domschke, Katharina. “Robert Schumann’s Contribution to the Genetics of Psychosis – Psychiatry in Music.” BJPsych. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 2010. Web.

“Portrait of the Artist as a Manic-Depressive.” Psychology Today: Health, Help, Happiness + Find a Therapist. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.

“March 1998 Vol 43, No 2 Review Paper.” March 1998 Vol 43, No 2 Review Paper. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.

Andreasen, Nancy C., and Ira D. Glick. “Bipolar Affective Disorder and Creativity: Implications and Clinical Management.” Http:// Journal of the American Psychopathological Association, n.d. Web.

Slater, and Meyer. Schumann’s works by year and opus number. Digital image. Http:// N.p., n.d. Web. 3/p45a.jpg

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