New research shows people with bipolar disorder (and siblings of people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder) are more likely to work in creative professions. The study, published in the November issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry, lends further support to the commonly-held view that creativity is associated with mental disorder.
Researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden studied the occupations of over 300,000 patients who had received inpatient treatment for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or depression between 1973 and 2003, and their relatives who did not have a diagnosis of mental disorder. The patients and their non-diagnosed relatives were compared to a control group.
People’s professions were categorised using the Nordic Classification of Occupations. Creative professions include both scientific jobs (such as university teachers) and artistic jobs (designers, performing artists, musicians and authors).
Here’s what the researchers found:
- People with bipolar disorder were over-represented in creative professions
- However, this was not true for people with schizophrenia or depression
- The healthy siblings of people with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia were more likely to hold creative occupations than the control group
Lead researcher Dr Simon Kyaga said:
Creativity has long been associated with mental disorder, epitomised by Aristotle’s alleged claim that ‘no great genius has ever existed without a strain of madness’. Our study, which is much larger than previous studies, shows that people with bipolar disorder, and their siblings, are more likely to work in creative professions.
Kay Redfield Jamison, Professor of Psychiatry at the John Hopkins University of Medicine, welcomed the research. Writing in an editorial in the same issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry, Professor Jamison said:
This large, well-designed study by Kyaga and his associates gives support to accumulating evidence showing a disproportionately high rate of mental illness, especially bipolar disorder, in creative individuals.
No one would argue that there is a straightforward relationship between psychopathology and creativity. Most people who are creative do not have mental illness, and most people who are mentally ill are not unusually creative. It is, rather, that there is a disproportionate rate of psychopathology, especially bipolar disorder, in highly creative individuals.
Kyaga S, Lichtenstein P, Boman M, Hultman C, Långström N and Landén M. Creativity and mental disorder: family study of 300,000 patients with severe mental disorder (PDF). British Journal of Psychiatry 2011; 199:373-379
Jamison KR. Great wits and madness: more near allied? (PDF) British Journal of Psychiatry 2011; 199:351-352
Having read Dr. Jamison’s “Touched With Fire”, I was already persuaded of this, but as Dr. Jamison herself says, it is good to see the result borne out in such a well-designed study.
What I find especially interesting is the results from siblings without mental-health problems. It would be interesting to see some future work done about whether this applies to siblings who are raised separately as well, or if this is indication that creativity is a different expression of the same genes that provide bipolar disorder.
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This study confirms what I always thought. Creativity means seeing or perceiving things in your own head, or hearing sounds and conversations that can be transcribed in form of writings and publications. Will this mean that prophets and messengers of God were simply schizophrenic patients.