The Link Between Depression and Creativity

“No great mind has ever existed without some degree of anger, despair or suffering.” - Aristotle

The discourse on whether depression and creativity are interlinked dates back to Aristotle. Only that it was then considered to be a blessing, a gift that enabled people to be extremely expressive. “Melancholia” is what they called it and this is where its romanticization began. But does it really require drinking paint or putting your head in an oven to create exceptional works of art?

Are Artists Just Innately Depressed?

Let’s address this issue by starting with the topic of creativity. Creativity is more a process than a trait. We sometimes fail to address the sheer amount of skill that artists hone through years of work and study. Although talent may exist, it only speeds up the process of figuring out the billions of thoughts floating through your mind. Which is why, it’s almost dehumanizing to suggest that a person’s work of art is a result of their mental illness.

Keep in mind that every creative person is not depressed. You cannot be born depressed either, it’s something that is acquired through a variety of factors and triggers that are formed in your mind over the years. That being said, there are plenty of creatively successful people who aren’t depressed, a major example would be Johann Sebastian Bach, he was not all that well known in his time but that might be because he didn’t receive the same amount of attention that 

Van Gogh received for chopping off his ear.

It may also be due to the prominence of these events that the idea of creativity and mental illness being linked gets reinforced in our minds.

Depression, Mental Illness and Creativity

“For me, depression is not sadness. It’s not having a bad day and needing a hug.”
That’s Kristen Bell on what depression felt like to her. Melancholy, a sense of loneliness and isolation, with a sprinkle of self loathing is what depression brings to the table. So is it really true that being in this state helps bring out our creative side?

Does Creativity Cause Depression?

Research does exist that shows how it's not creativity that leads to depression but the symptoms that lead to depression may also lead to creativity. 

Being creative goes hand in hand with thinking or ruminating. When you're sad, your first instinct is to find out what it is that makes you upset, and with depression, it's not easy to find out what's causing your mood to be at an all time low. Which may just lead you to question everything, and might give you a new, more vulnerable perspective to the world around you. 

So being a thinker, one thing that makes a person more prone to creativity could also be what makes them prone to depression.

Now, what if it's the other way around? 

Does Depression Cause Creativity? 

Do we need to be depressed to be creative?

Again, depression leads to a lot of thinking but this cycle of thinking does end eventually, often due to a mood shift that is probably caused due to a revelation. Research finds that when the process of ruminating ends, people get a burst of energy that, in this case, gets put into their art and brings about creativity.

To put this into perspective, another study found that gifting people and bettering their moods was enough to increase creativity; which works around the same principle as the first scenario. A quick lift in mood leaves the mind open to more ideas, whether we have to go through depression or have something good happen to us. 

Mental Illness and Creativity

While there is some evidence suggesting a link between mental illness and creativity, it's important to note that having a mental illness does not necessarily enhance a person's creativity. In fact, mental illness can often be a barrier to creativity, as it can interfere with an individual's ability to concentrate, find motivation, and engage with the creative process.

For example, depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders can make it difficult for individuals to find the energy and motivation to engage in creative pursuits. Similarly, conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder can cause individuals to experience intense emotional states and erratic thought patterns that can interfere with their ability to focus on creative projects.

Moreover, while some studies have suggested that certain mental illnesses may be associated with increased creativity, the evidence is not conclusive, and it's important not to romanticize the relationship between mental illness and creativity. Mental illness can be a debilitating condition that can have a negative impact on a person's quality of life, and it's important to seek professional help if you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues.

The Benefits of Art on Mental Health

Art and Mental health go together like paint and canvas. The process of creating art is known to have therapeutic properties, which can be seen in how Art Therapy is being increasingly advised to victims of trauma. Due to this it is also possible that people turn towards art to cope or heal. It’s a mini-vacation that you can take without a passport. 

So, does it take mental illness to create great works of art?
No, it doesn’t.

Do you need to be depressed to better express your emotions?
No, you don’t.

Are you creative just because of your own skills?
Absolutely.

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