Mental Health and Creativity

Photo by Amauri Mejía on Unsplash

There’s one lie/myth/misconception that I hate. It’s the idea that mental illness causes/boosts/enhances creativity. It’s common to the point of insidiousness. People think that those with mental illness are more creative than those without as if there’s some kind of causal link. This article in Aeon talks about how the connection is far from scientific and gets into some of the reasons it is a dangerous idea for so many people to hold on to. As a creative, or at least someone who does creative things, and someone who suffers from mental illness, I want to talk more personally about why I find the connection to be pernicious.

First of all, my creativity predates my mental illness. I’ve always been drawn to creative pursuits. Music and writing are the most obvious, but I always find ways to be creative. I even found ways to be creative in math classes. My mental illness didn’t come along until much later. That was caused by a really bad marriage. There is just no connection between the two.

The creative side of me hates the connection with mental illness because it robs me of autonomy. It’s as if I am not the creative one, the mental illness is. It appears to be akin to the way people say art comes from suffering or drugs enhance creativity. It implies there is something else doing the work. Creative activities do require a lot of work. I don’t know if I’m being selfish or not, but I want credit for that work. I certainly don’t want being sick to get the credit.

The mentally ill part of me hates the connection with creativity for a whole host of reasons, but they are mostly connected to the fact that it perpetuates misunderstandings of what constitutes mental illness. In my experience, mental illness makes everything harder. And I mean everything, including creativity. I feel like the connection between mental illness and creativity romanticizes mental illness and that’s dangerous and unfair to those who are suffering. It’s dangerous because no one should want an illness. And, if you have an illness, you should get treated for it. It’s unfair because it diminishes the mentally ill. It equates them with their illness.

It’s time we realize that creativity and mental illness are simply not connected. Sure, some creatives are mentally ill, but they create in spite of their illness, not because of it. Plus, plenty of creatives are not mentally ill and plenty of mentally ill people are not particularly creative. Don’t diminish anyone’s creativity and don’t romanticize anyone’s illness. It’s not fair to anybody.

I feel like I should add a note. This piece was particularly difficult to write because my mood is not good today. And I think the quality is worse than usual. The whole time I’ve been writing it, I’ve been wanting to scrap it. But it feels like a good illustration of my main point and how mental illness makes everything harder. Scrapping it would feel dishonest somehow. So, here it is. I hope you don’t judge me too harshly.

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