Creative individuals have a disproportionately higher rate of mental illness, according to new research published in the November 2011 issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry (1). Kyaga and colleagues used data from a Swedish registry to demonstrate that patients with bipolar disorder were over-represented in creative professions, patients with schizophrenia were more frequently found in artistic occupations and healthy siblings of patients with psychotic illness were overrepresented in creative professions. The link between mental illness and creativity has been explored for decades, with data suggestive of an association, but not conclusive. What is interesting in this British Journal of Psychiatry study is the lack of a relationship between depressive illness and creativity. Other studies have suggested a link between depression and creativity (2). An accompanying editorial by Jamison reiterates that most people who are creative do not have mental illness and most people with mental illness do not have unusual levels of creativity.
An article from The Royal Oldham Hospital (3) discussed recent research employing systematic and biographical methodology, which they believe has given strong support to a much higher rate of mood disorders in artistic populations than could be expected from chance alone. A British study spearheaded by Professor Jamison on living writers and artists revealed many overlapping mood, cognitive, and behavioral changes between hypomania and intense creative states. In the case of Lord Byron, the clinical hallmark of manic-depressive illness is its recurrent, episodic nature, which Byron had in an almost textbook manner. Byron also had a family history remarkable for its suicide in itself more likely to be associated with bipolar disorder than with any other condition.