The Mentally Unstable Writer – Common?


I am not sure how well this topic will go over with everyone, but it’s an interesting one to be regardless. There is a point to this, I promise.

The media often romanticises mood disorders and mental illnesses of creative people. Have you not noticed how unsurprised you are when you hear that an artist or singer or writer has committed suicide or suffered from a drug overdose? Let’s face it: Writers and artists are often associated with the “misunderstood genius” image. Actually, such a description is often a reality for most of us, but that’s another topic for another day that will probably never appear on this blog, but you never know.

I have noticed just from personal observation that many creative people suffer from some sort of issue of the mind, be it depression or anxiety or even bipolar disorder (To name a few). One might initially assume that negative thoughts and feelings could hinder the writing process, but the opposite is true in most cases.

While psychologists cannot prove that there is a link between mental illness or mood disorders and creative writing, there are several theories and studies that are showing that such mind conditions allow for creativity to thrive.

I don’t know, maybe it is just me, but it makes total sense that there would be an intense need to express oneself because of experiencing mental hardships, no matter what those may be. When a person experiences a hardship, then they will want to work through it and often inspire others to do the same. Art is, after all, a challenge in itself. You overcome so many hurdles as you create, whether it is a story, a picture, a musical piece, or a sculpture. People with mood disorders are constantly facing uncomfortable feelings and situations as well.

Have you noticed that so many great literary works are done by people who are not particularly stable? Of course mentally stable people can create things, but do they have the same effect? Can the writings of someone who has never dealt with depression or other issues show as much raw emotion as one who has? The weight of flawed humanity just pours from the writings of people who have experienced challenges and difficulties.

Maybe you disagree. But ask yourself seriously, what would the world of art and writing be like in the absence of mental instability?

According to one psychiatrist named Arnold Ludwig, “There is no question that people in the creative arts have higher incidences of depression, mania, alcoholism, drug use, schizophrenic breaks and so forth.” His book The Price of Greatness, argues that creative professions who focused on rational thinking and social interaction — like architecture — see very low incidence of mental illness. Meanwhile, the creative fields that focused on more abstract expression — like visual art — see very high incidence of illness.

It isn’t a coincidence. Mentally unstable minds often give birth to creative thoughts, our much needed inspiration.

Ludwig then breaks his theory down further, by saying that among writers. the highest prevalence of mental illness is found in poets, then fiction writers. The non-fiction writers — such as editors and columnists — show the lowest rates of mental illness. Not surprising because the creative energy used to write reports is not anywhere close to that of writing a story. There are stable and unstable creative writers around, but we have to admit that the writings from a broken person often carry more meaning and life. It allows us to look into the areas of life that might not be so pretty, but it is part of life, and in a way, such hardships can show us how precious and special life really is.

Is that not what is so amazing about art, in particular, novels and short stories? A riveting tale can touch the soul and strengthen the will of the reader, and all of this came from a person with an “anti-social” melancholic type of life. Something prolific can be birthed from a troubled mind. And is that not what attracts us to stories anyway? The trouble and the process of conquering hardship?

Even more thought-provoking is this: When people undergoing certain mental conditions take medications, such as lithium used to balance out bipolar disorder, the creative process becomes hindered. I wonder if creative people are more sensitive by nature, and feel things more, because they want to and need to in order to create realistic worlds and characters for their books. When you think a lot and take notice of people and how they act, it can heavily affect how you feel.

Such an interesting thought to consider. I wrote this not to sensationalize how it is to be a writer, but to encourage those writers who do suffer from mental conditions or mood disorders. Chances are, you probably write better because of those symptoms.

Yet another reason to just embrace who you are… and keep writing.

15 thoughts on “The Mentally Unstable Writer – Common?

  1. Great post with some interesting points. It’s hard to ignore just how many writer’s commit suicide too, Jack London, Kurt Vonnegut, Hunter .S. Thompson, Sylvia Plath, David Foster Wallace and the list goes on and on.

  2. I’m not sure, I’ve wondered similar things but I can’t figure it out– in a chicken/egg sort of way. I work in the mental health field and the VAST majority of our people have suffered trauma or abuse in their life– this is thought to be part of what has caused their mental illness/substance abuse issue. But then how does that work for people who have been creative their whole lives? I’ve known I was going to be a writer since I was 5….. I didn’t suffer anything traumatic until I was 13… The fact I was creative didn’t set me up for something bad to happen so which is first? I think that’s super rambly but I’m sleepy. Either way– it is very interesting to wonder about.

    1. I know what you mean!

      I honestly think that most creative writers are born with an inner melancholia or emotional sensitivity, and it makes us more aware of ourselves and things that happen in life. It provides a breeding ground for imagination and inspiration. I think? lol. Just a theory, and I don’t really know for sure what I’m talking about, but it’s weird, isn’t it?

      No, you weren’t rambling at all, no worries! I looove talking about this stuff. I am sorry to hear that you experienced trauma at 13.

  3. I have several writer friends that have bipolar disorder. Even in the ones that don’t, I notice patterns of mood “ups” and “downs” (even in myself) and I think it is pretty common among writers. I think many of us feel things more intensely, and thus feel the need to express them to the world. 🙂

    1. Aw that is so true! It must be cool having a lot of writer friends, I just have a few. Lately I’ve been taking on this sort of loopy/sinister persona when I’m at home… at least my roomies find it entertaining. lol

  4. Consider this question: What is a thought?
    If consciousness is merely the functioning of a simulation of the world around us running in our heads, then there will be those of us who can construct rules of operation for that simulation which do not follow the staid processes of the masses. Instead they will creatively combine rules and behaviors to implement simulations of the world which are much different from the staid thinking of ‘normal’ folk.

    Lithium turns the brain to a slow low power simulation in which it is not easy to be so creative. The creative mind can temporarily live in a world which is made of red and shadow and talking cats… the staid mind cannot.

    A child’s mind has not learned all the rules about the world yet, so such imaginations are naturally creative.

    In the opposite direction, some drugs loose the minds binding to staid normalism and can imagine all kinds of things… some call it hallucinating. A creative mind sees through their simulation of the world and distorts the inputs to the simulation inside the simulator without the need to distort the inputs themselves.

    Where you see a chair, I see a tired old man who dearly wants to tell the stories of his dinner time adventures. Creativity is as much about knowing the rules as it is about bending them so that the simulator in our heads can see the world in different ways.

    1. Whoa-oah! I loved reading this. 🙂

      You’re right. Creativity is all about bending the rules we know about. We don’t need drugs to be inspired, it’s like we’re always on an inspiration high. And that lithium would be a total bitch for a writer. I wouldn’t ever want to do anything that would tamper too much with my natural mind. As creative people, our brains are great just the way they are, even if there’s some depression or bi-polar tendencies in there somewhere.

      1. There are a few cultures inthe world that try to hard to get rid of ‘life’ by removing what is culturally considered bad… I think it’s harmful to us in general

  5. Great post. Elizabeth Gilbert talked about this issue in a Ted Talk a few years ago… I also spent most of my life enduring bouts of depression/malaise. I’m sure that contributed to my choice to be a writer… I’ve kicked my depression (over the past few years, at least), but I never lose the perspective.

    1. That’s interesting, I would love to read/watch more content on this occurrence. I am glad to hear that you have been able to kick the depression but still keep your creative perspective.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s