Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Dark Side of Creativity


















Creativity, Depression and Suicide Prevention

For several centuries, stories of famous painters, writers and musicians who were depressed and took their lives made people wonder. Only in the last 25 years has scientific evidence demonstrated that creative people are more vulnerable to depression and suicide, regardless of whether or not they become famous. More research is needed to determine which:

• Patients suffering from depressive or manic depressive disorders are most vulnerable to suicide.

• Treatments will control the disorder without interfering with the artists' ability to create.

Throughout history artists, writers and musicians have seemed to suffer disproportionately from mood disorders. Only recently has research concluded that a high percentage of artists -- both past and contemporary -- have, in fact, suffered from affective illness, particularly manic-depressive disorder.

Treatment of major depressive illness in artists has presented unique problems; partly because of a concern that creativity and the disorder are so intertwined that treatment might destroy the artists' unique talent.

By supporting studies of current approaches to treatment, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention hopes to encourage the development of new options for today's creators, options unfortunately unavailable for yesterday's greats.

Cases in Particular Arts

• The Literary Arts

Recent studies have shown that poets and writers are four times more likely than others to suffer from affective disorders, particularly manic depression. Dickinson, Eliot, and Poe are among the many poets who suffered from an affective illness. Writers such as Balzac, Conrad, Dickens, Emerson, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Ibsen, Melville and Tolstoy also suffered from the illness. In many cases, the writer's depression led to suicide: John Berryman, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf.

• The Visual Arts

Painters, sculptors, and other visual artists have also been afflicted by depressive disorders. Gaugin, Jackson Pollock, Michelangelo, and Georgia O'Keeffe suffered from depression. Van Gogh, Arshile Gorky and Mark Rothko died by suicide. Contemporary designers are plagued by alcohol and drug abuse, which are associated with depression.

• The Musical Arts

The death of Nirvana's Kurt Cobain brought the issue of suicide into the spotlight. But the problem was not new to the music world. Classical composers such as Rachmaninoff, Schumann and Tchaikovsky suffered from affective disorders. Irving Berlin, Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker and Cole Porter also suffered from depressive illnesses.

The Theatrical Arts

For many performing artists, the link between depression and suicide has been complicated by the effects of drug and alcohol abuse. For actresses like Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland, it remains unclear whether the cause of death was accidental overdose or suicide. Also, the tendency toward depression and suicide often shows up in the children of these performers, suggesting a familial link.


Prevent suicide through early recognition and treatment of depression and other psychiatric illnesses.

Source: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention