Although it is not always the case that someone with bipolar will excel in creative fields, a study conducted in Sweden across a 40-year period recently reported that, contrary to popular belief, mental illness as a whole was not linked to creative endeavours. The only mental illness showing a clear relationship with the arts was bipolar.
A different study, carried out at Stanford University, found that people who had bipolar and pursued some kind of creative discipline scored significantly higher than the control group on a creativity measuring scale called the Barron-Welsh Art Scale.
It is interesting to note that many first-degree relatives of people who have bipolar disorder – such as children – are even more highly represented in creative fields. Another study performed at Stanford University, this one in 2005, further confirmed this by publishing results showing that children who were deemed a ‘high risk’ for bipolar (e.g. having one or both parents with the disorder) scored much higher on a creativity index than the control group.
Given this proven link between bipolar and creativity, and the focus upon it, sometimes bipolar is romanticized, and even considered desirable. However, it is important to remember that bipolar is a mental illness, and therefore not something necessary to enhance creative genius. There are many artists who have achieved greatness without bipolar, and there are more people who have risen to fame without the disorder than with it.
For those with the illness, it might seem attractive to try and reach a hypomanic episode to enhance creativity or help produce more pieces of work. During these times, it may seem attractive to stop taking medication in order to bring on symptoms, or to indulge in other mood-enhancing behaviours such as drugs or alcohol.
These are important signs to watch out for in yourself or a loved one as they may be a precursor to a much more dangerous manic episode, which can be highly debilitating to the individual.
The other danger with a self-inflicted hypomanic episode is the crash of depression that will come after, leaving sufferers more at risk of damaging behaviour. With suicide rates in bipolar one of the highest associated with medicine, and that rate rising even higher if the condition is left untreated, it is important to be cautious and aware of you or your loved one’s state of mind.
Harnessing Your Creativity
It can be beneficial to a healthier frame of mind to harness the sense of creativity you may feel. Research shows that creative writing helps increase the function of the immune system, and all forms of the arts are conducive in treatment to help in discussing difficult emotions.
Bipolar can at times be damaging to your life, and lead to poor decisions that impact negatively in the future, and so if the energy can be channeled into books, art or music, then this is a much more stable use of high levels of productivity.