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Mental Illness in the Creative Mind Research Paper

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Updated: Aug 24th, 2020


Research has indicated that creative minds are more likely to carry genetic coding that predisposes them to the risk of mental illness such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. However, some scientists still dismiss this argument concerning it as fanciful. According to research done by Iceland scholars, imaginative people, including visual artists, authors, melodic groups, and comedians were 25% expected to be having gene modifications compared to other less imaginative experts. This subject matter has been on existence since ancient times. For instance, Aristotle asserted that no mastermind had ever lived devoid of having suffered from psychological insanity.

Case studies also indicate that the correlation between creativity and mental illness may not be a coincidence. The paper reveals some of the most brilliant minds such as Abraham Lincoln, Robin Williams, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Vincent van Gogh who have excelled in their fields have all been associated with some form of mental madness. Despite their positive influences on society, the above-talented persons were tormented by their inner demons that caused their emotional, mental, and physical breakdown. As the paper asserts, although it may be evident that some of the world’s creative minds may have suffered from mental illness because of their creativity, these incidences have gone unnoticed or unmentioned by the larger society with only tales of their sad endings that are speculated to have been propagated by their “inner demons”.

Case examples of Brilliant Minds who suffered from a Mental Illness

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln is said to have fought clinical depression for most of his life since childhood (Shenk 53). Ironically, the content of his character that acted as a source of his depression provided him with the tools he needed to save the nation. Lincoln is said to have periodically wept in public, told jokes during odd times, and even talked about committing suicide on more than one occasion. Those around him referred to his mysterious and ingrained character as profound melancholy. Unfortunately, during his time, little was known about his clinical condition. Researchers of Lincoln such as Shenk and modern clinical experts have all agreed that Lincoln did indeed suffer from depression based on a comparison of his life events and the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders used for diagnosis of mental disorders (52).

Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh is one of the most celebrated and legendary artists who are renowned for their talent and passion to create exceptional artworks that have stood the test of time to this day. However, van Gogh is recorded to have had a bizarre and unstable personality characterized by recurrent psychotic episodes, particularly in the last two years of his life. His condition is said to have been a contributing factor to his alleged suicide at a youthful age of 37. Despite the limitation of evidence, clinical experts have suggested a variety of judgments for his perplexing illness. According to a group of French physicians who reviewed his life and letters, van Gogh suffered two distinct episodes, namely, reactive depression and bipolar disorder. These two episodes were usually followed by periods of high energy and excitement (Blumer 1).

Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer and pianist and an important figure in the genres of classical music in the era of Western art music. Through his eccentric talent, he remains to be one of the most renowned and influential composers of all time. However, besides suffering deafness, a recent study by Clark indicates that Beethoven also suffered from bipolar disorder, a psychological disorder that affected his mood (par.1). He was featured with irregular episodes of primary gloominess and enthusiasm. According to Clark, his mental condition was closely linked to his creativity as an artist (par.2). Moreover, his condition also helped Ludwig to create a fertile ground for the harvest of his originality that was an essential component of his creative work.

Robin Williams

Robin Williams is regarded as one of the most talented creative award-winning comedians who have ever lived. However, Robin suffered from bipolar disorder, a condition that led to his inevitable death. The comedian is said to have long struggled with mental illness and addiction throughout his adult life and career in comedy. In the early 1980s, William was already using cocaine. He only went to rehab in 2006 when his addiction had spiraled out of his control. According to experts, individuals such as Williams who suffered from depression did often decide to use drugs and alcohol as a form of treatment for their condition. Additionally, there is a reasonable overlap between substance abuse, alcohol, and suicide such as in William’s case (Chai and Calahan 13).

Why the link between Creativity and Mental Illness is not a Coincidence

Many talented artists, comedians, philosophers, and musicians who are successful in their field are tormented by mental illness during most of their career lives. Therefore, this situation goes on to illustrate that the correlation between creativity and mental illness is not a coincidence but a sad fact. A recent study was carried out by Simon et al. (373) to investigate the likelihood of individuals who were involved in creative careers suffering from mental illnesses such as unipolar depression, bipolar depression, and schizophrenia. The results of the study highlighted an overrepresentation of individuals in creative occupations who illustrated an existing bipolar disorder or with siblings with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

The individuals mentioned above are just but a few of the many examples of creative minds that have suffered from mental illness. In fact, according to Aristotle, no grand intellectuals who are regarded as masterminds have ever survived devoid of having a strain of mental psychosis. This claim is an indication that the link between creativity and mental illness has been a subject of discussion since ancient times. Today, this view has continued to gain interest from both the public and scientists, with more and more prominent creative individuals suffering from mental illness and even succumbing after having been tormented by their “inner demons” (Simon et al. 373). Robin Williams is one of the recent victims of such a predicament. Robin Williams’ autopsy confirmed that his death resulted from suicide. According to investigators such as Simon et al., Williams was battling severe depression in the latter part of his life, which may have compelled him to take his own life (373).

It has also been purported that these inner demons were an important vessel for their extraordinary gift. Mental illness may supply an artist or a genius with innovative ideas that he or she can use to attain success in his or her field. For instance, a talented painter such as van Gogh who suffered from the manic-depressive disorder may have been heavily influenced by periodic frenzied episodes that epitomized his inspiration to create creative pieces of art. Emotions such as excitement are more exaggerated during manic episodes to the level of causing the manic artist to portray more confidence in his implausible ideas. Moreover, van Gogh displays an overwhelming boost of energy that assists him to focus on an enormous amount of work within an insanely short period. Also, during the artists’ period of depression, they generate insightful images inspired by feelings of suffering, pain, and turmoil that they can manifest in their work.

Positive influences of Abraham Lincoln, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Robin Williams on Society in the Context of Creative Minds

Abraham Lincoln’s legacy was his depiction as a self-made liberalist who set the slaves free from the torture of their evil masters. Lincoln is regarded as a mythological hero who provided African-Americans their much-deserved freedom. Through his humor and compassion, he was often presented as a beacon of emulation for humanity. According to historians such as Fredrickson, Lincoln occupies a mythic place in the American culture due to his commitment to preserving the liberal union (100). As a result, he succeeded in vindicating the spirit of democracy, regardless of the consequences that were aligned along his path. Due to his unwavering spirit of ending slavery, Lincoln managed to save the union by eliminating slavery. He attained his ultimate goal of integrating liberty and economic equality into the American culture (Fredrickson 100).

Ludwig van Beethoven had a great influence on the musical world. Through his creative innovations, Beethoven changed the musical sound and the role of composition in music because of his work, especially the structure, form, and orchestration. For instance, regarding musical form, Beethoven came up with the principles of motivic development and sonata form that he had inherited from Mozart and Haydn, but with greater writing extensions. Regarding romantic music, Beethoven managed to influence the integration of the aspect of emotional expression. Some of his late compositions expressed and emphasized emotional and romantic feelings, thus setting a trend for those who would follow his example.

Comedians such as Robin Williams have positively contributed to society through their influence on culture, for instance, the American culture. For instance, in his character in Mrs. Doubtfire, Robin was able to reach out to divorced couples where he relayed a message of the never-ending relation that exists between a parent and a child. Additionally, through his stand-up performances and comic movies, Robin was able to bring joy and laughter to the lives of many people both in the older and in the newer generation.

Why Creative Minds Suffer from Mental Illness

Some scientists suggest a genetic association between imagination and psychological infirmity. According to study results by Iceland scientists, as Sample reveals, the risk of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder was found to be much higher in persons serving creative professions, including painters, writers, musicians, and dancers compared to their counterparts in the less creative professions (par.1). The study participants who were involved in creative professions were found to have genetic variants that increased their risk by 50 percent for schizophrenia and 33 percent for bipolar disarray. For instance, the national art society members were found to have a 17 percent increase in the variant genes. An argument raised by Stefffason was that the genes that presented in creative persons altered their way of thinking (Sample par.3). However, despite substantive evidence overlying the genetic link between creativity and mental illness, this finding accounts for only a small portion of the broader variation in creative persons’ abilities because of sufficient evidence of a higher incidence of mentally healthy persons who are of creative minds or born of creative parents (Koh 214).

Another school of thought tackles the mystery that describes a cognitive link where individuals who are deemed to possess creative minds are presumed to be having common styles of thinking. Such styles include convergent thinking, ambiguity, and divergent thoughts. Additionally, creative minds are also identified to possess traits such as flexibility of thinking, redefinition, elaboration, and originality. These modes of thinking are claimed to predispose creative persons to psychotic tendencies and conditions. For instance, creative persons are characterized by allusive thinking that results in being extremely perceptive, indistinct, and inapt in their speech (Koh 215). Such aspects are highly featured in schizophrenic patients (Koh 215).

Personality has also been closely associated with the correlation between creativity and mental illness. According to Baron in Koh, there is evidence of the existence of similarities between the experiences and characters, particularly restlessness and impulsion, of creative persons and schizophrenics (215). Furthermore, creative persons are evidenced to display solitary tendencies, poor social skills, and disinterest in social norms. They are also more likely to portray dominance and aggression to impose their tenacious views with great defense. These traits are eminent in persons who suffer from schizophrenia (Koh 215). However, contrary to these negative traits, creative persons also display positive traits such as empathy and sensitivity to human oppression and suffering through which they center their work. For example, Vincent van Gogh went beyond being a psychotic to expressing his empathic emotions through the painting, ‘Potato Peelers’ which displayed the sufferings of the working classes (Koh 216).

Negative Influences of Mental Illness on the Psychological, Emotional, and Physical States of a Person

Psychological Influence

Mental illness causes a change in the personality of the affected individuals regarding their patterns of emotion, thought, and behavioral tendencies. The patterns often include irrationality, communication problems, social withdrawal, impulsivity, obsessive-compulsive behavior, disinterest in appearance, and reduced efficiency in work. For instance, Van Gogh’s impulsive behavior compelled him to cut off his ear after an argument with a friend artist. Besides, Robin Williams is said to have experienced a great deal of impulse to commit suicide because of his severe depression (Chai and Calahan par.2). Besides personality changes, these individuals experience an altered state of cognition, which caused them to have trouble concentrating and making sound decisions.

Emotional Influence

Persons suffering from mental illness often display negative emotional aspects such as protracted distress, grief, mood disorders, anxiety, and depression. Depression and hopelessness can be so severe to the point of undermining the patients’ ability to cope with their pain. The two issues can even lead to suicidal tendencies. Depressive illness is notorious for affecting the rationality of people to the level of causing them to have the impulse of committing suicide. This outcome was witnessed in Robin Williams whose autopsy confirmed death due to suicide. Nevertheless, such emotional influence has been linked to adverse effects on the physical health of individuals such as cerebrovascular incidences that may eventually lead to their ultimate death (Turner and Kelly 124).

Physical Influence

Studies have indicated a reduced lifespan in people who suffer from mental illness compared to the general population. This high rate of mortality has been associated with a physical infirmity that is linked to mental illness. A study carried out by De Hert indicated a high rate of prevalence of different types of physical illnesses compounded by poor life choices, side effects of psychotropic drugs, and healthcare disparities among patients who suffer from mental illness (52). Some of these illnesses include metabolic and nutritional diseases, viral diseases, cardiovascular diseases, musculoskeletal diseases, respiratory tract diseases, stomatognathic diseases, and pregnancy complications, just to mention a few. Therefore, lifestyle choices, as well as treatment factors, account for a great deal of increased risk of physical illness among those who suffer from mental illness. For example, Vincent van Gogh cut off his ear after getting into a dispute with his artist acquaintance Paul Gaugin.

Reasons for downplaying the Subject by Society

Stigma is the main cause of downplaying the subject of mental illness among creative persons. This stigma is often compounded by media platforms that portray mental illness in a context of fear and/or ignorance. For instance, most shows would depict the affected persons as violent, aggressive, and socially discordant. Such myths cause those affected, especially the creative persons, who are greatly emulated and admired to be highly sensationalized, thus causing them to hide their illness to the level of going unnoticed until their eventual death.

Additionally, stereotypes of violence, unpredictability, and incompetence that may cause discrimination of creative persons by excluding them from societal needs and privileges such as proper care, relationships, education, and employment, which contribute to the unwillingness of creative persons to seek medical attention. Therefore, these individuals continue to suffer from their illness, which may lead to maladaptive behavioral tendencies such as drug and substance abuse as witnessed in the case of Marilyn Monroe, Whitney Houston, and Robin Williams (Corrigan, Druss, and Perlic 37). Such issues further worsened their existing condition.


Mental illness and creativity have been closely linked since ancient times. This argument has been supported by evidence-based and quasi studies that focus on creative persons, including musicians, writers, artists, comedians, and their prevalence for mental illness. Ironically, some aspects of mental illness can be considered helpful in their contribution to the success attained by some of these creative individuals. This claim can be substantiated via Vincent van Gogh’s paintings where he expresses different emotions at different periods or the stamina he exhibited during the bipolar disorder manic episodes that allowed him to produce a large number of paintings in a short period.

The existing diverse examples of creative minds such as Vincent van Gogh, Robin Williams, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Abraham Lincoln illustrate the fact that this linkage may not be a mere coincidence. Despite the impact of creative persons on the larger society because of their gifts, mental illness may have had enormous psychological, emotional, and psychological effects on them. However, these issues often go unnoticed due to the existing stigma and the associated negative societal effects that cause the affected persons to ignore seeking medical help or opting to hide their demons from the public eye.

Works Cited

Blumer, Dietrich. “The illness of Vincent van Gogh.” American Journal of Psychiatry 59.4(2002): 519-26. Print.

Chai, Carmen, and Kathlene Calahan. , 2014. Web.

Clark, Philip. , 2014. Web.

Corrigan, Patrick, Benjamin Druss, and Deborah Perlick. “The Impact Of Mental Illness Stigma On Seeking And Participating In Mental Health Care”. Association for Psychological Science 15.2 (2014): 37-70. Print.

De Hert, Marc. “Physical Illness in Patients with Severe Mental Disorders. I. Prevalence, Impact of Medications, and Disparities in Health Care.” World Psychiatry 10.1 (2011): 52–77. Print.

Fredrickson, George. Big Enough To Be Inconsistent, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2008. Print.

Koh, Caroline. “Reviewing the link between creativity and madness: a postmodern perspective.” Educational Research and Reviews 1.7 (2006): 213-222. Print.

Sample, Ian. , 2015. Web.

Shenk, Joshua. “Lincoln’s Great Depression.” Atlantic 296.3(2005): 52-68. Print.

Turner, Jane, and Brian Kelly. “Emotional Dimensions of Chronic Disease.” Western Journal of Medicine 172.2 (2000): 124–128. Print.

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