The Mad Genius: The Link Between Bipolar Disorder and Creativity

“Where would the memoir be without bipolar writers? I mean,…I’m not accusing every memoirist of being bipolar. But I think in a way it’s kind of a gift.”

– Ayelet Waldman

Jimi Hendrix. Vincent Van Gogh. Jean-Claude Van Damme. Kurt Cobain. Carrie Fisher. Winston Churchill.

Throughout history there have been innumerable artists, musicians, and other creative powerhouses who have suffered from bipolar disorder. So many, in fact, it has raised the question of whether or not a link exists between bipolar disorder and creativity. New research suggests that might just be the case.

In a 2010 study researchers found those diagnosed with bipolar disorder dominated in the arts and humanities professions. Of the 1,000 subjects who were analyzed many were poets, musicians, and artists. According to this study, the likelihood of those suffering from bipolar disorder was 10 times higher than that of the general population. The study was able to show that “there is broad evidence that creativity and psychopathology are correlated.”

A 2019 pilot study of a small group of people with bipolar disorder found they scored higher on the Barron-Welsh Art Scale, a scientific test that measures creativity. Results of this study suggested “bipolar disorder is associated with creativity, but not necessarily creative accomplishment.”

Excellence in language and/or music was directly aligned with an increased risk for developing bipolar disorder, according to one 2010 study.

Another study even suggested that poets are 30% more likely to have bipolar disorder than someone in the general population.

What is known for sure, however, is that there is a huge genetic factor associated with having bipolar disorder. Researchers are now trying to determine if those same genes may produce heightened creativity levels, intellectual awareness, and productive output.

People with bipolar disorder have a certain brain chemistry and structure that allows for many of the boundaries in a “typical” brain to not exist in the brain of a bipolar person.

People with bipolar disorder have unique experiences which they feel at different levels than the “typical” person. Those with bipolar disorder have different emotional and intellectual perspectives that may play a role in the likelihood of having a high creativity level.

Although there does indeed appear to be a clear genetic correlation between creativity and bipolar disorder, not everybody with bipolar disorder will be overly creative.

Many artists and writers choose not to take medication for the sole purpose of maintaining a heightened level of awareness. On that same note, the perils of the disorder should still be heeded. Untreated bipolar disorder can be dangerous, even life-threatening, and is not worth the risk of being intensely creative.

More research and information is needed to fully make the connection, but current data does show people who are genetically predisposed to bipolar disorder tend to function at a more intense level of creativity and increased overall productivity.

Throughout history there have been innumerable artists, musicians, and just overall creative powerhouses who have suffered from bipolar disorder. So many, in fact, it has raised the question of whether a link exists between bipolar disorder and creativity.

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