A new study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience has discovered a genetic link between mental illness and creativity. The research was conducted by scientists from deCODE genetics and the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College, located in London, UK. (source)
It’s important to note that this is not the first time a genetic link between creativity and mental illness has been postulated. As history shows us, many of the world’s most brilliant and creative minds have also struggled with what we perceive to be “mental” issues. Some great examples are Vincent van Gogh, Allan Poe, and Frida Kahlo, just to name a few.
In this particular study, genetic risk scores for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia were examined in a sample of approximately 85,000 people. The study defined creative individuals as those belonging to the national artistic societies of actors, dancers, musicians, writers, and visual artists.
“Although creativity is difficult to define for scientific purposes, researchers consider a creative person to be someone who takes novel approaches requiring cognitive processes that are different from prevailing modes of thought or expression. Researchers found that genetic risk scores for both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder were significantly higher in those defined as creative individuals, approximately halfway between the general population and those with the disorders themselves.”
It’s also important to note here that very little is known about most psychiatric disorders, which makes the use of certain drugs used to treat them questionable in many cases. We know next to nothing about the underlying biological pathways that lead to these issues.
“An idea that has gained credibility is that these disorders reflect extremes of the normal spectrum of human behaviour, rather than a distinct psychiatric illness. Our findings suggest that creative people may have a genetic predisposition towards thinking differently which, when combined with other harmful biological or environmental factors, could lead to mental illness.” – Robert Power, first author from the MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry (SGDP) Centre at the I0PPN.
A lot of questions arise with regards to these connections that again, have been postulated and studied in depth multiple times. A few years ago, a panel of experts discussed the research between the link at the 5th annual World Science Festival, where all three panelists suffer from mental illness themselves.
“The findings of some 20 or 30 scientific studies endorse the notion of the “tortured genius.” Of the many varieties of psychosis, creativity appears to be most strongly linked to mood disorders, and especially bipolar disorder. For example, one study tested the intelligence of 700,000 Swedish 16-year olds and then followed up a decade later to learn which of them had developed mental illnesses. The startling results were published in 2010. They found that people who excelled when they were 16 years old were four times as likely to go on to develop bipolar disorder.” – Key Redfield Jamison, clinical psychologist and professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who also suffers from a mental disorder. (source)
This is a big issue. If we look at ADHD, for example, there is a tremendous amount of evidence to suggest that characteristics associated with that label are actually associated with creativity and “abilities” rather than “disabilities.”
Recent work in cognitive neuroscience shows that both creative thinkers and those with an ADHD diagnosis show difficulty in suppressing brain activity that comes from the “Imagination Network.” There are no school assessments that provide evaluation on creativity and imagination, these are hard to draw up and measure and receive very little attention in our education systems.(source)(source)(source)(source)(source)
Another interesting piece of information to note is that in 2004, an author by the name of Gary Davis reviewed a large portion of literature from 1961 to 2003 and identified 22 recurring personality traits of creative people, most of which were very positive and associated with the same personality traits as people who have been diagnosed with ADHD. Some of these traits included: independence, risk taking, high energy, curiosity, and humour, along with being emotional and artistic. Some of the negative ones included: impulsive, argumentative, and hyper active. He published his findings in his book “Creativity is Forever.”
Important Considerations When It Comes To Mental Illness & The Medical Industry
There is no doubt that there is a lot of scientific fraud and manipulation when it comes to pharmaceutical drugs, and the entire health industry in general. A number of studies have been published alluding to this problem, and it has also received more attention recently. The editor in chief of the Lancet (one of the most reputable peer-reviewed medical journals in the world), Dr Richard Horton said that “half of all the literature published is false” and that “science has taken a turn towards darkness.” (source) You can read more about that story here.
There are plenty of examples to choose from. American psychologist Lisa Cosgrove and others investigated financial ties between the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders (DSM) panel members and the pharmaceutical industry. They found that, of the 170 DSM panel members, 95 (56%) had one or more financial associations with companies in the pharmaceutical industry. One hundred percent of the members of the panels on “mood disorders” and “schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders” had financial ties to drug companies. The connections are especially strong in those diagnostic areas where drugs are the first line of treatment for mental disorders. In the next edition of the manual, it’s the same thing. (source)(source)
“The DSM appears to be more a political document than a scientific one. Each diagnostic criteria in the DSM is not based on medical science. No blood tests exist for the disorders in the DSM. It relies on judgments from practitioners who rely on the manual.” (source) – Lisa Cosgrove, PhD, Professor of Counselling and School Psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.
“The very vocabulary of psychiatry is now defined at all levels by the pharmaceutical industry.” (source) – Dr. Irwin Savodnik, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California at Los Angeles.
Again, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that pharmaceutical companies have influenced certain psychiatrists to “pathologize” certain behavior as a mental illness so more drugs can be marketed to the masses. In my opinion the evidence is overwhelming, but we’ll save that for another article, as it is a big topic.
I do not mean to imply that certain mental illness don’t exist, but we must look at the full end of the spectrum here. But some of these diagnosis are based purely off of observation without any scientific evidence. I am talking about ADHD, Asperger’s and more. This statement doesn’t apply to some of the more serious cases like schizophrenia and others.