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Artists with Bipolar Disorder, Schizoaffective Disorder
Bipolar Type, Schizophrenia and Mental Illness

Bipolar DisorderMillions of people including many artists, writers and musicians with bipolar disorder (BPD), also known as manic-depressive illness, have a brain disorder which causes abnormal shifts in mood, energy and the ability to function. Everyone experiences ups and downs in life but the symptoms of bipolar disorder are extreme swings in mood from deep depression and thoughts of suicide, to elation, exuberance and feelings of grandeur. In some cases (bipolar II) these individuals are unaware of the shifts in mood and changes in their personality. People with bipolar disorder often experience difficulty maintaining close relationships, perform poorly in school, and have trouble keeping a job. Compounding these problems addiction to drugs and alcohol is very common among people with bipolar disorder. Furthermore perceiving life through both depression and mania causes confusion and distortions of reality. Because of the many negative effects bipolar disorder has on an individual and the stress an individual feels caused by cycling through mania and depression he or she may resort to risky behaviors, self medication or suicide to end their suffering.

According to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), 5.7 million American adults or about 2.6 percent of the population in any given year have bipolar disorder. Typically bipolar disorder develops in adolescence or early adulthood. Some people show symptoms during childhood however many individuals especially children are misdiagnosed and suffer for many years before being properly diagnosed and treated.

Bipolar Disorder and Creativity

"Venomous"“Men have called me mad but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence–whether much that is glorious–whether all that is profound–does not spring from disease of thought–from moods of mind exalted at the expense of the general intellect.”— Edgar Allan Poe. The condition known as madness has a long and complex history and for centuries has been the subject of poets, painters, philosophers, and physicians. Aristotle linked madness to one's character, claiming that “no excellent soul is exempt from a mixture of madness” and Seneca declared that “there is no great genius without a tincture of madness.” Göethe took a dimmer view of the human condition, stating that “we do not have to visit a madhouse to find disordered minds; our planet is the mental institution for the universe.”

There have been a handful of studies presumed to support the idea that there is an intrinsic connection between bipolar disorder and creativity. Andreasen[1,2] carried out interviews with 30 Writers-in-Residence at the University of Iowa. Jamison[3]studied a British group of 47 prize winning artists and writers. Ludwig[4] investigated individual biographies of 1004 persons reviewed in the New York Times from 1960-1990. And there have been others each indicating a link between bipolar disorder and creativity, however, some have been suspect and criticized for faulty methodology.

The artist with bipolar disorder may not have a monopoly on innovation and creativity, nevertheless, some of the most unique and original art, music, and literature has been created by people suffering from this disease. More research needs to be conducted on bipolar disorder creativity and cognition specifically as it relates to psychopathology.

Mental Disorders in America

Brentwood AsylumMental disorders are common in the United States and internationally. An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.[1] When applied to the 2004 U.S. Census residential population estimate for ages 18 and older, this figure translates to 57.7 million people.[2] Even though mental disorders are widespread in the population, the main burden of illness is concentrated in a much smaller proportion — about 6 percent, or 1 in 17 — who suffer from a serious mental illness. [1] In addition, mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in the U.S. and Canada for ages 15-44.3 Many people suffer from more than one mental disorder at a given time. Nearly half (45 percent) of those with any mental disorder meet criteria for 2 or more disorders, with severity strongly related to comorbidity. [1]

1. Kessler RC, Chiu WT, Demler O, Walters EE. Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of twelve-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R). Archives of General Psychiatry, 2005 Jun;62(6):617-27.
2. U.S. Census Bureau Population Estimates by Demographic Characteristics. Table 2: Annual Estimates of the Population by Selected Age Groups and Sex for the United States: April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2004 (NC-EST2004-02) Source: Population Division, U.S. Census Bureau Release Date: June 9, 2005. http://www.census.gov/popest/national/asrh/
3. The World Health Organization. The World Health Report 2004: Changing History, Annex Table 3: Burden of disease in DALYs by cause, sex, and mortality stratum in WHO regions, estimates for 2002. Geneva: WHO, 2004.
http://www.who.int/whr/2004/annex/topic/en/annex_3_en.pdf

The following are a few highly creative individuals with bipolar disorder: Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe, Walt Whitman, Sylvia Plath, Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Ezra Pound, Charles Mingus, Gustav Mahler, Paul Gauguin, Georgia O'Keeffe, Jackson Pollack and Vincent van Gogh. Many are a part of our popular culture such as Ozzy Osbourne[5], Jean-Claude Van Damme[6], Axl Rose[7], Sinéad O'Conner[8], Jack Irons[9], Linda Hamilton[10], Peter Gabriel[11] and Kurt Cobain[12] to name a few.

Notes

1. Andreasen NC: Creativity and mental illness: Prevalence rates in writers and their
first degree relatives
. American Journal of Psychiatry 144:1288–1292, 1987.
2. Andreasen NC, Canter A: The creative writer: Psychiatric symptoms and family
history
. Comprehensive Psychiatry 15:123–131, 1974.
3. Jamison KR: Mood disorders and patterns of creativity in British writers and artists.
Psychiatry 52:125–133, 1989.
4. Ludwig AM: The Price of Greatness: Resolving the Creativity and Madness Controversy. New York, Guilford Press, 1995.
5. Ozzy Osbourne, singer. Lead singer of Black Sabbath and his self-titled band. Cited in VH1's "Heavy: The History of Metal" in 2006.
6. Australian Woman's Day magazine, January 30 2006
7. Here Today... Gone To Hell! | Articles > The world according to W. Axl Rose by Del James
8. Sinead O'Connor to Oprah: I feel for Britney - CNN.com
9. Apter, Jeff (2004-11-23). “Fornication: The Red Hot Chili Peppers Story”. Omnibus Press. pp. 134. ISBN 1-84449-381-4. 
10. Linda Hamilton says she has bipolar disorder - More news and other features - MSNBC.com
11. Famous People with Bipolar Disorder
12. Interview: Kurt Cobain's Cousin on Youth Suicide | AHealthyMe.com

 

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