Creativity and Mental Health

A lot of people are aware of the tendency that creative people such as artists and writers suffer from some form of mental disorder(s) like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and even schizophrenia. This relationship was present even in ancient Rome and Greece. A historical example is painter Edvard Munch and his battles with anxiety to create the famous “The Scream”. I knew about this connection for some time now and things such as comedian and actor, Robin Williams’s suicide a few years ago continue to fortify this relationship. I was curious as to why this happens so much with people so I looked into it.

An article on provides one perspective as to why comedians such as Robin Williams suffer from depression. Clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the California State University, Los Angeles, Dr. Ramani Durvasula, explains “I sometimes opine that the tool of the comedian — to turn the dark or difficult or complex into something ‘palatable’ or funny — can lead to an association between depression and comedy, but being a comedian does not make someone depressed.” In a sense, comedy becomes somewhat of a coping mechanism for the depression but they eventually will merge into one being in his or her head.

An observational study conducted by neuroscientist, Andreas Fink, and his colleagues at the University of Graz in Austria provides more scientific results to this question. His study used a functional MRI scanner to scan the brains of creative individuals and individuals with schizotypy, a less severe manifestation of schizophrenia. His participants displayed a range of levels from low to high levels of schizotypy. While in the MRI, Fink asked the participants to come up with new ways to use everyday objects and then assessed the originality of the responses. The results of this study are summarized in this CNN article about Fink’s study and the connection between creativity and mental disorders. Fink found that with the subjects with high schizotypy scored higher in terms of originality in their responses and also had more brain activity. The MRI scans showed that there was constant activity in the right precuneus region, which is involved in attention and focus. This area tends to not be as activate while processing complex tasks in order to help the person focus. What these results mean is that individuals with higher levels of schizotypy and more creativity “take in more information and are less able to ignore extraneous details” and that “their brain does not allow them to filter”.

I find it very interesting that there is a visible or even tangible positive side to these types of mental disorders. It is also good not only to satisfy my personal curiosity but also to progress in the scientific and medical fields to find a treatment or even a cure for mental disorders such as depression.



1 thought on “Creativity and Mental Health

  1. Francis Patrick Cotter

    I wonder if the theory that you reference on comedians using their craft as a coping method applies to other fields. First off the evidence seems fairly anecdotal, but may have some backing to it. When I try to think of how this could apply to different fields, the theory feels like it falls flat.
    For example, does a doctor become a doctor because they have medical issues? Does a teacher use teaching as a coping method for not knowing things?
    Perhaps since comedy and depression deal more with psychological factors the theory works. But that fact that it is difficult to apply it to any other field makes it a tough sell.

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