If you look to history (which you always should), you’ll find plenty of anecdotal evidence that creatives tend to lose their minds at a higher rate than the average population. Famous people, too – van Gogh, Beethoven, Plath, Hemingway…the list of creators with mental illness is as long as my arm and yours put together.
Though previous studies attempting to link the two have been small and varied, a recent study in The British Journal of Psychiatry found that people with “artsy” degrees are 90% more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia, 62% more likely to suffer from bipolar disorder, and 39% more likely to struggle with depression.
This new study is in line with brain scans published in 2010 that revealed similarities between neural pathways of schizophrenics and creative people. In 2015, a different study also found a raised risk of both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder in creatives – though a 2012 study found that only writers fell into the higher risk category.
The reason behind the growing links remains a mystery, with some believing that a tendency to think more deeply can cause emotional instability and depression. Artists also tend to create in spurts, and bouts of productivity and high energy are also linked to bipolar disorder. Genetics could, of course, also influence both mental health and a creative nature.
One of the study’s authors, James McCabe, sums up further:
“Creativity often involves linking ideas or concepts in ways that other people wouldn’t think of, but that’s similar to how delusions work – for example, seeing a connection between the color of someone’s clothes and being partof an MI5 conspiracy.”
If you work in a creative field, it’s important to be mindful of your own mental health. That said, the incidents of schizophrenia in the world as a whole are still small, so your chances of being diagnosed remain slim.