Individuals who work in creative fields are diagnosed and treated with a mental illness more frequently than the general public, showing an important link between writing and schizophrenia.

The finding came from a team of experts at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. Their extensive research on the Swedish registry is currently the most inclusive in its area.

Research conducted by the team in 2011 indicated that bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are more prevalent in families consisting of artists and scientists compared to the society at large. They demonstrated that the dopamine system in healthy, creative individuals is fairly similar to that seen in people with schizophrenia.

The aim of the current study was to determine whether more psychiatric diagnoses, such as depression, alcohol and drug abuse, schizoaffective disorder, autism, ADHD, anxiety syndrome, anorexia nervosa, and suicide, were linked with creativity as well. Since their prior trials consisted of hospital patients only, this time they included people in outpatient care.

Nearly 1.2 million patients and their family members (down to second-cousins) were examined for the current study. All subjects were compared with healthy controls, Swedish residents from the most recent decades. The information could not be associated to anyone studied because the data was anonymized.

Analysis provided evidence for the researchers’ prior report, that bipolar disorder is more common in all individuals with artistic or scientific jobs, including researchers, dancers, photographers, and authors.

The majority of the other psychiatric diseases, such as depression, anxiety syndrome, schizophrenia, and substance abuse, were more prevalent among authors in particular. They also had a 50% higher chance of committing suicide compared to the general public.

The family members of those with bipolar disorder, anorexia nervosa schizophrenia, and, to a certain level, autism, had jobs that required creativity more commonly than the general population.

The finding gives scientists a reason to rethink current ways of treating mental illness, Simon Kyaga, consultant in psychiatry and doctoral student at the Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, said.

Kyaga concluded:

“If one takes the view that certain phenomena associated with the patient’s illness are beneficial, it opens the way for a new approach to treatment. In that case, the doctor and patient must come to an agreement on what is to be treated, and at what cost. In psychiatry and medicine generally there has been a tradition to see the disease in black-and-white terms and to endeavour to treat the patient by removing everything regarded as morbid.”

Many famous authors throughout history lived with mental illnesses. Although not proven, many friends and commentators at the time believed Charles Dickens suffered from serious bouts of clinical depression. Paticia Cornwell, a best-selling crime novelist, has acknowledged she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Stephen Fry, a British actor/author suffers from depression and most likely bipolar disorder.

Below is a list of other famous creative people who have lived with some kind of mental illness:

  • Graham Greene – bipolar disorder
  • Franz Kafka – clinical depression and social anxiety
  • Sylvia Plath – most likely bipolar disorder
  • Sidney Sheldon – bipolar disorder
  • Dylan Thomas – most likely clinical depression
  • Leo Tolstoy – was said to have become depressed and suicidal when his book “Russian Herald” was published
  • Tennessee Williams – most likely suffered from clinical depression
  • Virgina Wolf – clinical depression
  • Winston Churchill – a famous author as well as politician. He suffered from clinical depression and described his bouts as “black dog”
  • Ernest Hemingway – clinical depression

Written by Sarah Glynn