There appears to be a link between bipolar disorder and creativity. Research shows that people with a genetic predisposition to bipolar disorder are more likely than others to be artistic and creative.

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. It can cause extreme mood swings. At one end of the emotional spectrum, an individual may experience manic episodes where they feel high and euphoric. And at the opposite end, someone with bipolar disorder may feel extremely low or even have suicidal thoughts.

Experts estimate that 2.8% of adults in the United States have had bipolar disorder in the past year and that 4.4% have had the condition at some point. People with bipolar disorder can find it challenging to cope with their emotions. However, some evidence suggests that for those with this condition, art therapy could help.

Art therapy uses art materials and creative processes to help people express their thoughts and feelings.

This article looks at the connection between bipolar disorder and creativity and how art therapy can help treat this condition.

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects if it’s safe to do so.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Find more links and local resources.

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In a United Kingdom study from 2015, researchers recorded the IQ of 1,881 eight-year-old children. Then, when the participants turned 22 or 23 years of age, the scientists assessed them for manic traits. The results showed a link between high childhood IQ and bipolar disorder symptoms in later life.

The findings may indicate that the genetic features of bipolar disorder may also predispose people to creativity. This was apparent, particularly in fields where strong verbal skills are advantageous, such as literature.

Another 2015 study also found a link between bipolar disorder, genetics, and creativity. The researchers analyzed the DNA of 86,292 Icelandic citizens to look for potential links between genetics and bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

They also recorded if the participants were actors, dancers, musicians, visual artists, or writers. The results showed that the genetic variants that increased the risk of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder were 17% higher among these creative individuals.

Further evidence of the link between bipolar disorder and creativity comes from a 2019 pilot study. The researchers found that among the 38 participants, those at risk for the condition scored significantly higher in creativity scores.

One approach mental health practitioners use to help manage bipolar disorder symptoms is art therapy, or creative art therapy. It involves using creative activities as a form of self-expression and coping mechanism. These activities may include:

  • painting
  • drawing
  • writing
  • music
  • dance
  • drama

There is some evidence that art therapy is a low risk way of helping people manage bipolar disorder symptoms by enabling them to understand and cope with their emotions. However, large, randomized studies have demonstrated mixed results.

Further evidence of art therapy’s value for bipolar disorder comes from a 2021 review. Researchers looked at 413 studies and found that art therapy, specifically painting and drawing, can help those with mental disorders and reduce the burden of symptoms.

The authors noted that art therapy was useful in two ways. Firstly, it could help people open up and share their feelings and experiences. Additionally, it supported clinicians in diagnosing diseases and allowed them to obtain information different from conventional tests.

Learn more about art therapy.

Countless people living with bipolar disorder have demonstrated incredible artistic talents. Some of the more recognized artists with the condition include:

  • Marcel Barbeau
  • Barney Bubbles
  • Elbridge Ayer Burbank
  • Helmi Juvonen
  • Jackson Pollock
  • Vincent van Gogh

Drama therapy is another creative therapy that may help people with bipolar disorder. This therapy uses creative methods, such as storytelling, improvisation, role-playing, and guided visualizations. It allows individuals to explore their mental health issues, past experiences, emotions, and trauma in a safe environment.

Drama therapists believe that people have an innate capacity for creative expression. By exploring this skill, individuals can access deeper parts of themselves, find new ways of relating to others, and overcome ingrained problems.

Some evidence suggests that drama therapy can help those with bipolar disorder. For example, a 2021 study used a drama therapy intervention in individuals with serious mental health issues, including bipolar disorder.

After the participants engaged in a 9-week drama therapy program, their symptoms improved moderately.

Although the results were not significant, the intervention was beneficial. The participants benefited from building a supportive community of friends and partaking in enjoyable activities.

Other creative therapies that may help individuals with bipolar disorder include music therapy. Listening to and creating music can help people stabilize their moods and improve their quality of life.

In a 2021 review of 349 studies that looked at using music to support the treatment of serious mental illness, over two-thirds reported positive results. The musical activities included playing instruments, dancing, improvising, singing, songwriting, and listening to music.

Learn more about the different types of creative therapy.

There is evidence to suggest that creativity and bipolar disorder share an association.

Some studies also indicate that creative therapies, such as art therapy, drama therapy, and music therapy, may help people with bipolar disorder manage their symptoms.

While more research is necessary, creative therapies appear to be a low risk and potentially effective approach for managing bipolar disorder symptoms.

Overall, art therapy, and creative therapies in general, can be an important addition to the standard forms of treatment once a person has had a diagnosis and is undergoing treatment.