When I was young I found the descriptions of poets and writers such as Dylan Thomas, Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath romantic. I thought their struggles with mental illness and their deaths were all indications that they were tortured, creative, geniuses.
I probably would have carried on thinking this had it not been the case that when I turned eighteen I suffered my first bout of mania followed by months and months of depression. I was diagnosed as having manic-depression. There was nothing romantic about being bipolar, quite the opposite and personally I found it to be the enemy of creativity, after all how can you pen a novel when you can’t string a sentence together?
A study by Swedish researchers at the Karolinska Insitute of more than a million people found that writers had a higher risk of anxiety and bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, unipolar depression and substance abuse. (British Journal Of Psychiatry (2011) 199, 373-379)
Beth Murphy head of information at MInd said bipolar personality traits could be beneficial to those in the creative professions, but it may also be the case that people with bipolar are more attracted to professions where they can use their creative skills. she also adds:
‘It’s important we don’t romanticise people with mental health problems, who are too often portrayed as struggling, creative geniuses. We know one in four people will be diagnosed with mental health problems this year and these individuals will come from a range of different backgrounds, professions and walks of life. our main concern is they get the information and support they need and deserve.’
Writing does have elements to it that could be a trigger for those of us with a mental health diagnoses. Such as the isolation, long hours and dealing with rejection along with the despondency that comes with a bad writing day to the jubilation when a project comes together. Going back to what Beth Murphy said we mustn’t then link this with any notion that this is romantic. Yes mental ill health does have links to creativity. However, if anyone has spent time on a psychiatric ward or lost someone to suicide you will know the destructive nature of illness, which can affect everybody, not just the person who is ill.
So does this all mean you have to have a mental illness to write? The answer is a firm no. After all there are many writers who have never been ill. The links to creativity do exist, but as I said earlier, I have often found illness to be the enemy of creativity.
What do you think? I would love to hear from you?
(If you ever feel ill or are concerned about someone else, please talk to someone, preferably your GP. You can also speak to the Samaritans on 08458 909090 www.samaritans.org.)