The relationship between creativity and depression

Over and over we have heard that there is a strong connection between creativity (and even genius) and psychopathology. Many great representatives of different arts such as painting, literature or poetry are known to show symptoms of different psychiatric disorders.

When we speak of arts such as painting or sculpture, we are generally referring to the suffering of manic images or psychotic explosions, in which there is a break with reality (this break being the one that facilitates the creation of something. again). But depression has also been associated with creativity and great works. This is why in this article we will talk about the relationship between creativity and depression, a relationship that is generally not talked about as often as with other pathologies.

    What is depression?

    Before talking directly about the relationship between creativity and depression, it may help to take a brief look at the concepts we are talking about.

    It is understood as major depression to mental disorder or psychopathology characterized by the presence of a sad mood and / or anhedonia or difficulty feeling pleasure or satisfaction most of the time for at least two weeks, along with other symptoms such as trouble sleeping (possibly insomnia and nocturnal awakenings or hypersomnia) and hunger (usually causing loss of this), mental sluggishness or bradypsychia, restlessness or psychomotor retardation, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and possible thoughts of death and suicide (although not all of these symptoms are necessary).

    It is a disorder that generates a high level of suffering, in which cognitive biases occur which in turn cause the existence of a cognitive triad; negative and desperate thoughts about yourself, the world and the future and in which there is high negative affectivity and low positive affectivity and energy. It has serious effects on the way we see the world and generally generates great limitation in different areas of life.

    The person is usually focused on their depressive thoughts, loses the desire and motivation to act, loses focus and tends to isolate themselves (although at first the environment becomes protective and pays more attention to the subject, in the long term, there is usually a fatigue of the situation and a gradual estrangement).

      What about creativity?

      As for creativity, it is understood as the ability to create new avenues and options to get things done, Generate new strategies to come to an end. It requires different skills, such as memory and the ability to think differently. Above all, it takes imagination to make the link between reality and the elements to be created. At the artistic level, one of the most recognized forms of creativity and considered pure, also requires introspection and self-awareness, as well as a high sensitivity to capture emotions. It is also often linked to intuition.

      Art has also often been associated with suffering. It allows the subject to reflect and to immerse himself in what he is, what he feels and what the world feels. Authors like Freud they link the artist’s creativity to childhood pathologies and traumas, Be a way of opening up to conflicts and to the desires and fantasies present in the unconscious.

      The relationship between creativity and depression

      The link between depression and creativity is not new: since ancient times, Aristotle has proposed that philosophers, poets and artists often have a melancholy character.

      This idea evolved and persisted throughout history, finding that some great thinkers, philosophers, inventors and artists had characteristics of depressed subjects with mood disorders (Also includes bipolar disorder). Dickens, Tennessee Williams or Hemingway are just a few examples. And not only in the art world, but also in science (Marie Curie is an example).

      But this relationship is not based only on hypotheses or concrete examples: multiple scientific studies have been carried out to try to assess this relationship. The large amount of data from these studies analyzed in the meta-analysis conducted by Taylor from which this article is based, shows that there is a relationship between the two concepts.

      Two visions of this relationship

      The truth is that if we analyze the symptoms present in a large part of depression (lack of desire, anhedonia, mental and motor slowing …), the relationship between depression and creativity (which implies a certain level of activation mental and created) may seem odd and counterintuitive. But in turn, we have to think that too it involves a focus on what one thinks and feels (Although these thoughts are negative), as well as paying attention to the details of what is bothering us. It is also common for creative works to be done at a time of recovery or returning to normal functioning after going through an episode.

      But having this relationship has a double reading: it is possible that the person suffering from depression sees their creativity enhanced, or that creative people tend to suffer from depression.

      The truth is, the data does not broadly support the first of the options. People with major depression have shown in different trials greater creativity in aspects such as painting (interestingly, artistic creativity is most associated with this type of disorder). However, the differences were relatively small and, in many cases, were not considered statistically significant.

      As for the second of the options, namely the fact that creative people tend to have higher levels of depressionThe results are much clearer and more obvious: they indicate that there is a moderate to high relationship between depression and creativity (although the relationship appears to be greater with bipolar disorder). People with the highest level of sensitivity, including the artistic sensitivity often associated with creativity, are prone to depression. They tend to feel emotions more intensely and pay more attention to detail, being more generally affected by events and thoughts.

      Of course, this relationship occurs with major depressive disorder, in which depressive episodes appear that are eventually overcome (although they may recur in the future). Disorders such as dysthymia, in which there is no depressive episode per se that is eventually overcome, are not related to greater creativity. One of the possible reasons for this is the fact that you have a mood disorder. it facilitates introspection and focus on how we feel and interpret the world, Something that others generally don’t consider to the same extent. And these reflections can be embodied in different types of works, such as literature, poetry or painting, sparking creativity.

      The Sylvia Plath effect

      This link between mental illness and creativity, especially in the field of poetry. It has been found, in the study of different authors throughout history, that on average people engaged in poetry (and especially women) they tend to die younger, often from suicide. In fact, the suicide rate has dropped from 1% to 17%. This was dubbed by Dr. James Kauffman as the Sylvia Plath effect or the Plath effect.

      The name in question comes from a famous poet, who suffered from depression (although today it is assumed that she may have suffered from bipolar disorder), who ended up committing suicide at the age of thirty years after several attempts throughout his life and whose works often reflect death.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Taylor, CL (2017). Creativity and mood disorder: systematic review and meta-analysis. Perspectives on Psychological Science. 12 (6): 1040-1076. new York
      • Kaufman, JC (2001). The Sylvia Plath Effect: Mental Illness in Prominent Creative Writers. J Creative Behavior, 35: 37-50.

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