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Creativity and Madness

Simon Kyaga

A new study by Simon Kyaga shows that people with artistic or scientific professions suffer more from certain mental diseases.

A creative person is often portrayed as a bit of a crazy person. The close link between creativity and madness has been suggested ever since antiquity.  This is not a strange suggestion, considering that psychotic individuals are said to display a capacity to see the world in a novel and original way, literally, to see things that others cannot. Much like creative people, who have the capacity to think differently and come up with new and innovative ideas. However, empirical evidence for this assumption has been questioned, not least considering that many prior studies have relied on biographical data and a small amount of people. A large population-based study by Simon Kyaga and his colleagues shed a new light on the discussion. The study looked at the occurrence of creative professions among 1.2 million patients with psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety syndrome, substance abuse, autism, ADHD, anorexia nervosa and suicide, in conjunction with their relatives. People with artistic or scientific professions, such as dancers, researchers, photographers and authors were shown to suffer more from certain mental illness - bipolar disorder - and were almost 50 per cent more likely to commit suicide than the general population. This raises the question: is there something like a ‘creative’ gene? And how could this link between creativity and madness be explained in a psychological and evolutionary perspective?  

Simon Kyaga is an attending physician in psychiatry at Lidingö Mood Disorders Outpatient Clinic and researcher at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. After meeting several patients with extraordinary creative abilities, he got interested in the ancient idea of a relation between genius and madness. Together with colleagues he subsequently performed the largest study on the subject demonstrating an increase of psychosis in both creative individuals and their relatives. Simon is currently on the hunt for ‘creative’ genes.

Interesting links
Website Karolinska Institut: Link between creativity and mental ilness confirmed
Website NCBI, Mental illness, suicide and creativity
Website NCBI, Creativity and mental disorder

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