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November 2, 2012

Study: A Link Between Creativity and Bipolar Disorder

Musicians, artists, actors, and writers. Scientists and mathematicians. Browse any list of prominent people who’ve dealt with bipolar disorder during their lifetimes and names like Frank Sinatra, Jackson Pollock, Nina Simone, Ernest Hemingway, and Isaac Newton seem to leap from the page.

Is there a connection between creativity — both artistic and scientific — and bipolar disorder, a mood disorder marked by wide swings between manic “highs” and depressive lows? This much-debated question may finally have an answer, thanks to a large-scale study from Sweden that confirms the link between creativity and artistic talent and mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Conducted by the Karolinska Institutet, a medical university near Stockholm, researchers looked at 40-years’ worth of data from Sweden’s health registry, including the anonymous records of almost 1.2 million patients and their relatives. Information included such statistics as health status and employment.

The analysis turned up that certain mental health issues — in particular bipolar disorder — are more common among artists and scientists, from actors and dancers to physicists and computer scientists. It also became clear from the records, say researchers, that families with a history of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia are also more likely to produce artists and scientists.

In other words, creative types may be more likely to have family members being treated for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anorexia and autism, than people who flock to more traditional professions.

Study researcher Simon Kyaga, a Karolinska Institutet doctoral student, said the results suggest doctors might want to reconsider some approaches to mental illness. This could include using arts-based therapies that tap into individual strengths and talents as a way to promote healing.

The study was published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research. Source:
“Link between creativity and mental illness confirmed”

Image Source: Evidence that Vincent Van Gogh and other artists had bipolar disorder spurred research into its relationship to creativity. source

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