Bipolar Disorder and Creativity

It’s one of the enduring myths about bipolar disorder that people with it are more creative and that treatment, especially with medication such as mood stabilizers, will diminish one’s creativity.

The depth of emotional experience, tendency toward impulsivity, and overestimation of our capacities that occur during mania lead many of us with bipolar disorder into creative fields, so it is no surprise that in the arts and in entrepreneurship people with bipolar disorder are overrepresented. However, the choice to pursue a creative field does not in itself illustrate that one is, in fact, creative. Contrary to this propensity to pursue creative endeavors, evidence clearly illustrates that severe forms of mania actually diminish creative expression, divergent thinking, and the capacity to turn ideas into tangible, valid work.

Creativity is difficult to define. If we accept that merely generating ideas encapsulates creativity than we can easily conclude that mania, with its onslaught of an incredible flight of thought and its propensity to lead the person experiencing it to overestimate their ability and impact, naturally results in creativity. However, when we consider that creative ideas must be both novel and workable, and that these ideas must lead to some measure of success, it becomes obvious that manic inspiration rarely results in what most people would consider successful or groundbreaking creative work.

Of course, some of us with artistic inclinations will protest that such lack of success is a badge of honor that we proudly wear amongst people without the insight to understand our work, but this doesn’t make us truly creative. Dangerously, however, it may make us embrace bad ideas like the one that medication and stable moods will rob us of our creativity.

Extensive studies conclude that little that is truly creative ever emerges from a person who often experiences mania. People with Bipolar 1 actually score very low on most measures of creativity. It is those who successfully manage bipolar disorder or those with a propensity toward bipolar disorder who are able to grasp the inspiration and energy found in states such as hypomania and have the opportunity and the ability to do truly creative work. And to succeed at it.

It should also be noted that these same studies find that depression in no way enhances creativity or creative work. It inhibits it.

Most people we would consider profoundly creative achieve their insight through years of study and diligent hard work. Anyone who has lived with the disruptions in life caused by severe mental illness will understand that this work is all but impossible when episodes of depression or mania repeatedly disrupt their life.

So if you’re one of the many who fear that taking your meds will dull your creative edge think again. It is not cool to be manic and little good ever comes of it. To be creative requires solutions to problems that are both insightful and understandable. While fluid moods may lead us to new ways of thinking, only in more stable mental health can we successfully express those ideas through truly creative, even inspiring, work.