Creativity is associated with mental disorder, says new study


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

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Andre Tomlin

André Tomlin is an Information Scientist with 20 years experience working in evidence-based healthcare. He's worked in the NHS, for Oxford University and since 2002 as Managing Director of Minervation Ltd, a consultancy company who do clever digital stuff for charities, universities and the public sector. Most recently André has been the driving force behind the Mental Elf and the National Elf Service; an innovative digital platform that helps professionals keep up to date with simple, clear and engaging summaries of evidence-based research. André is a Trustee at the Centre for Mental Health and an Honorary Research Fellow at University College London Division of Psychiatry. He lives in Bristol, surrounded by dogs, elflings and lots of woodland!

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