Study links creativity and mental illness

People employed in artistic or scientific professions receive more treatment for mental health issues than the general population, according to a new study by researchers at Karolinska Institutet, .

It was demonstrated that mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder are more common among individuals who dance, carry out research, take photographs or write for a living.

In addition, the investigation - which was part-funded by the Swedish Research Council - found that authors are at greater risk of depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and substance abuse.

Simon Kyaga, a Consultant in Psychiatry and a doctoral student at the Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the learning institute, said the findings suggest treatment methods for mental illnesses should be reconsidered.

He noted: "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."

Dr Gordon Claridge from the University of Oxford, a Fellow of the British Psychological Society, comments:

"The connection between creativity and mental illness  reported by the Swedish researchers is not, of course, a new discovery; it has  been reported many times in previous research. But it is useful to have it confirmed again in what was clearly a carefully designed study of a large general population sample;  and to appreciate the authors' interpretation of their data as evidence of  the increasingly recognised 'dimensional' view of psychological disorder, having some of its roots in healthy functioning that could be a target for therapy.

"Looking to the future, it is perhaps now time to move beyond repeated studies of the more usual examples of 'creative professions' - as reported here - and examine some different angles on the topic. Two examples I can quote from own recent work is showing similar connections in another creative group, adult comedians, and in individuals who reported having imaginary friends in childhood."