18 May, 2012

Mental Health Month: Madness and Creativity

There is a connection between genius and madness that is often touted by those with mental diagnoses as well as those in Hollywood(who probably have mental diagnoses as well). I've seen lists of famous artists, poets and writers, all with substance abuse, mood and anxiety related diagnoses (some of them who were not even alive to be diagnosed). 

I don't doubt that a lot of people with genius have mental health issues. Schizophrenic traits (disorganized thinking, hyperawareness and hyperreflexivity, intense introversion) are strongly associated both with hallucinations and increased creativity as certain areas of the brain simply do not "turn off". In bipolar mania, the euphoric states of manic exuberance and decreased need for sleep have been linked to more than a few creative binges.

Here are a few lists I've found that detail some of the proposed inclusions for these lists, which almost always include Vincent Van Gogh and Mozart. While I don't doubt that many of these people had and have severe problems, I think there are also problems with taking this form of thinking too far.

The first problem is that it assumes that a talent- such as writing or music is something that is inborn- it forgoes the amount of training needed to be a really great artist. Second is it highlights only those artists with mental illness- not the millions who do not have mental diagnoses and not the billions with mental diagnoses who are working in your typical jobs. Third and lastly, I  believe it overly focuses on famous artists as if they are a superior form of human. As an artist, I say "fuck that".

So... is there a point I am trying to make? Is there a connection? Perhaps. Perhaps not always, though. Some of the most creative, intelligent people I know have diagnoses, and some of the most boring people I know have diagnoses as well. From what I've seen, those diagnosed with mental disorders are just as varied and normal and weird as the rest of us.

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