Bipolar Disorder and Creativity

Bipolar Disorder and Creativity
A recent study by a joint effort of Lancaster University in the U.K. and Yale University in the U.S. is the first to link bipolar disorder with inspiration. For those of us who are familiar with the many artists who live, or lived, with bipolar or depression, this should come as no surprise. The list includes Tim Burton. Ludwig Von Beethoven, Kurt Cobain, Jim Carey, Sylvia Plath, Vincent Van Gogh, Francis Ford Coppola, Jimi Hendrix, Richard Dreyfuss, Virginia Woolf, Edgar Allen Poe, Sylvia Plath, and many more.

For generations, artists, musicians, poets and writers have described personal experiences of mania and depression, highlighting the unique association between bipolar disorder bipolar disorder and creativity – experiences which are backed up by recent research. But, until now, the specific links between inspiration – the generation of ideas that form the basis of creative work – and bipolar disorder has received little attention.

painterThe paper ‘Development and Validation of a New Multidimensional Measure of Inspiration: Associations with Risk for Bipolar Disorder’, published in PLOS One last week, found a specific link between those people who found their source of inspiration within themselves and risk for bipolar disorder.

The new research shows people at higher risk for developing bipolar disorder consistently report stronger experiences of inspiration than those at lower risk. Professor Jones, co-director of Lancaster University’s Spectrum Centre, said:

It appears that the types of inspiration most related to bipolar vulnerability are those which are self-generated and linked with strong drive for success.

Understanding more about inspiration is important because it is a key aspect of creativity which is highly associated with mental health problems, in particular bipolar disorder. People with bipolar disorder highly value creativity as a positive aspect of their condition. This is relevant to clinicians, as people with bipolar disorder may be unwilling to engage with treatments and therapies which compromise their creativity.

Personally, this is one of my big fears and frustrations. As I’ve become significantly more balanced over recent years, I feel my creativity has declined. While I have every intention of continuing with my recovery, I have a large concern that my creativity will suffer even more.

As part of the study, 835 undergraduate students were recruited to complete online questionnaires from both Yale University in the U.S. and Lancaster University in the U.K. They were asked to complete a questionnaire which measured their bipolar risk using a widely-used and well-validated 48-item measure which captures episodic shifts in emotion, behavior, and energy called The Hypomanic Personality Scale (HPS).

They also completed a new questionnaire developed by the team which was designed to explore beliefs about inspiration, in particular the sources of inspiration – whether individuals thought it came from within themselves, from others or the wider environment. This measure was called the the EISI (External and Internal Sources of Inspiration) measure.

The students who scored highly for a risk of bipolar also consistently scored more highly than the others for levels of inspiration and for inspiration which they judged to have come from themselves.

Researchers say, although this pattern was consistent, the effect sizes were relatively modest so, although musicianinspiration and bipolar risk are linked, it is important to explore other variables to get a fuller picture and to conduct further research with individuals with a clinical diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

It is my belief that the best, and easiest research they can do to find a link between bipolar disorder and creativity is to turn to the World Wide Web. The number of blogs related to bipolar disorder has exploded in recent years and so many of them are beautifully written. I dare anyone to find a larger number of incredible poets anywhere than personal blogs about living with bipolar.

It appears that, once again, that science has caught up with what the rest of us already knew. Maybe someday they’ll just learn to ask us.

Source: Lancaster University

9 comments on Bipolar Disorder and Creativity

  1. And yet, in all things, balance. I could have never won NaNoWriMo if I hadn’t been diagnosed and medicated. I’m not sure I can do it again ’cause it slammed me right back into depression from overexerting myself, but at least I can point at that and say, ‘Creativity didn’t die!’, and that helps me a lot.

    1. That does lift my spirits, Raeyn. Perhaps being medicated does not affect creativity. Perhaps it Is something that stays with us, medicated or not.

      1. I think it’s easy to feel like it’s lost because when we’re healthier, our brain is spitting up less random stuff. I know today most would deem as ‘creative’, because my brain is just shouting random words and ideas out at me. Which you know, random has its points, but sometimes what comes out when there’s less noise to sift through has more value. So I reckon, it’s still there, but perhaps it takes a bit for the brain to process that it’s still there because it’s different. 🙂

  2. I rarely write poetry anymore since becoming stable. The words and the emotional surges that drove them just aren’t there anymore. I miss writing poems dearly, but do not miss all of the negative symptoms that went along with it. There is definitely a link between bipolar and creativity for me.

    1. Now I’m hearing the opposite of what Raeyn said. Ugh. We’re all so complex. What I lost was writing humor. When I was in the depth of despair I use to write a lot of funny posts. It was so easy then compared to now. I really struggle with it and don’t think I’m nearly as successful.

      1. how ironic that while depressed you wrote humor…very interesting. I wrote a lot of poetry when I was depressed because the macabre imagery was such a strong presence in my mind. My writing was not about flowers and love, that was for sure!

        I could see where being medicated and stable would help one write a novel since this is a more long term project versus a poem or blog post which takes just a short burst of creative energy.

        1. It is ironic that I had a greater sense of humor back then. It was one if the few things that kept me going. I hope I regain it someday…hopefully soon.

  3. I think it may be a mistake to assign retrospective diagnoses to people such as Poe and Van Gogh. Many of them lived before bipolar disorder was recognized, and we are making assumptions based on their work and biographies. We can certainly make educated guesses, but I am wary of presenting them as facts.

    1. You make a good point, Janet. I try to avoid using current famous people unless I can find specific trusted info and should probably do the same with historical figures. I honestly don’t know anything about Poe’s personal life. Vincent is a different story. You’d be hard pressed finding a current pdoc who wouldn’t say that in all likelihood he was bipolar. It is impossible for me to read his letters to his brother without breaking into tears. It’s as if he’s speaking for me. Actual proof? Nah. But I feel confident including him. In the past I have prefaced including historical figures, Van Gogh as well. by acknowledging that there is no specific proof, but that evidence suggests…. Thank you for reminding me that I should continue to do the same.

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