1. mbinks89
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    mbinks89 Active Member

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    Writing and Mental Illness

    Discussion in 'The Lounge' started by mbinks89, Mar 24, 2013.

    Has it ever struck anyone else here as odd as to how so many writers suffer from bipolar, depression, substance abuse problems, and a myriad of others? What I really find amazing is how alcoholics like Hemingway, Faulkner and Stephen King can still churn out great writing. I'm no neuroscientist, only really know that alcohol seems to affect the brain's white matter and that damage is "mostly" reversible, but even still, that should have an impact on their writing, and these guys have put out Pulitzer-prize winning stuff. What is it that draws writers -- and artists in general -- towards the dark side of the human mind, and how is it that many can still produce fine works of art with these inner demons and all the related neuro-cognitive deficits?
     
  2. rhduke
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    rhduke Contributing Member Reviewer

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    I don't know really. It's weird that I find it natural to write about depression, dispair or madness. The emotions convert from thought to word a lot easier than anything else.
     
  3. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I think unless you have actual systematically collected data, you risk the selective attention fallacy. It's a common phenomena to think you are seeing lots of X because you don't realize how many times you saw Y but it didn't stand out or stay in your memory.

    Logical Fallacies, scroll down to "Observational Selection".
     
  4. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I don't know if I'd classify alcoholism as a mental illness.

    I do know a few writers who have suffered from depression (Hemingway, Kafka, Woolf). In some cases, writing may bring on depression because it can be a solitary and frustrating job. In other cases, writing may be a way to deal with depression. I remember reading a study that claimed that writers have a greater chance of becoming depressed than most other professions.

    Woolf also had bipolar disorder, and she wrote about all the crazy voices she heard. Her diary (which I think is 4 or 5 volumes) has a lot of interesting passages about her experiences, and I highly recommend it. Writing these things down may have been a way to cope with and/or make sense of what she was experiencing. It's hard to say.

    To answer your question, I don't know how writers with mental illnesses can produce such great works of art. One thing I do know, however, is that they all had discipline and dedication.
     
  5. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've heard before that great artists overall have had higher incidence of mental illness. Hard to say exactly why this is. We understand such a small amount about how the brain works, so maybe there are physiological aspects that tie the ability and desire to express one's self artistically with experiencing the world in this way.

    I'm not certain I'd refer to them as neuro- cognitive deficits. Most of what I see is that they're becoming more widely referred to as "differences." (Same with learning disabilities becoming more widely referred to as learning differences.")

    It makes some sense that artists are more in touch with their feelings (hence, the desire and ability to express them). It also makes some sense that people who are less in touch with their feelings would be more inclined to focus on things that are more tangible or rigid, appreciating and understanding better things that follow more stringent rules (such as those found in mathematics). If people pursue what feels most natural to them -- what they're good at, or best at, it makes sense that they'd pursue careers (artist vs. physicist) that play to those interests and strengths, and not pursue careers that rely on those things they are not as good at. Also, people who are more in touch with their feelings and emotions probably comprise a group that includes people who get over-ly involved with their feelings and emotions, or maybe feel them more acutely, which includes a lot of people who have various diagnosable mental illness issues.
     
  6. Revenant
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    Revenant Member

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    A year or more ago I was on a buzz for finding out about depression, reading a bunch of books about it. I don't remember this stuff exactly, since it's been quite some time, but one of the books I read talked about this. Someone even conducted a research study about this, and found that there is a connection between creativity and depression, and even more so between creativity and bipolar disorder. Sorry I can't remember more details. If I find the book again I'll fill you in.
     
  7. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I haven't seen any clear evidence that writers per se are more prone to having a mental illness. I have seen studies suggesting the creativity/depression/MI connection, but nothing that could be considered conclusive. It could also be that persons who have their work and personal lives put out for public display can create that impression, whereas the many, many other walks of life which remain private actually contain a much higher percentage of MIs.

    Probably just a phrasing issue, but writers/artists - no one, frankly - is drawn towards mental illness. It's not like "Oh, that looks dark and enticing, let's try it!". It would be more realistic to say that those with MIs are drawn to writing/art. And that also reflects on studies - a chicken/egg puzzle. If there are more mentally ill artists, is it because of the art or because of the illness?
     
  8. mbinks89
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    mbinks89 Active Member

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    ^ haha yeah you're right, very few people if anyone would be drawn towards darkness, and if they were, i suppose they'd already be dark
     
  9. lowprofile300
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    lowprofile300 Active Member

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    I am no scientist or researcher either, but here is what I suspect. For some writers suffering from these ailments, or demons, writing becomes a strong outlet, an escape. Often the only way out, in their mind. They tend to excel because of the repetitive nature, and concentration they develope towards the art. Mind you, it's not just writers I am refering to here, but artists in general. A few examples here, Vincent van Gogh, Ludwig van Beethoven, Amy Winehouse, Elvis.

    Now keep in mind, I am just speculating here.
     
  10. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    "Sigh..." The mousy little girl tried again to be heard. "Stop everyone. The whole underlying premise of this discussion is faulty. You're all believing what you want to believe. The romantic notion of the mentally ill, evil creative genius is a fictional character that exists only in your minds. You created him/her. S/He's not real. Your mind has fooled you yet again."

    Creativity and Mental Illness: Is There a Link?

    But the people didn't want science. They didn't want reality. They wanted art. "Go away," they told her. "You're spoiling our fun."
    So she did, never to bother the people in the thread again. The truth was there if they wanted to see. And if they didn't, well, it would be there waiting for them. Truth doesn't go away. People just choose not to look at it.
     
  11. lowprofile300
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    lowprofile300 Active Member

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    @GingerCoffee,
    Ok, I get your point. I was hoping I was right, but here is what I know about hope, when hope tries to fight off fact, fact always end up killing hope. The facts have spoken:)
     
  12. chicagoliz
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    Thanks for that link, GingerCoffee! Very interesting. And enlightening.
     
  13. MainerMikeBrown
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    MainerMikeBrown Contributing Member

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    Part of the reason so many writers have mental illness is that so many people nowadays are being diagnosed with mental illness. Lots of people from many other professions have mental illness as well.
     
  14. rainshine
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    rainshine Senior Member

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    The art is there before the mental illness, it is when the person is cut off from the art that can create the mental illness - maybe?
     
  15. mbinks89
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    mbinks89 Active Member

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    @GingerCoffee, well here's a study that seems to say otherwise.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-19959565

    And there's the excerpt: The BBC’s coverage of this research is a little misleading as it actually found that, with the exception of bipolar disorder, overall, people in creative professions were no more likely suffer from a psychiatric condition than anyone else. There was one exception – writers. People who wrote for a living were more likely than the general study population to suffer a range of disorders, including schizophrenia and depression. Writers were also more likely to commit suicide.
    from this article: http://www.nhs.uk/news/2012/10October/Pages/the-price-of-genius%E2%80%93creativity-linked-to-mental-illness.aspx
     
  16. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    No. While outside forces may precipitate an episode, they do not cause/create the mental illness.
     
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  17. rainshine
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  18. Quille
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    Quille Senior Member

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    There is a book that links depression with writing. It's called "The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writers Block, and the Creative Brain" written By Alice W. Flaherty. She is a neurologist in a research hospital, she also writes. She claims that depression and other mental illnesses originate in the same areas of the brain.

    It's been a while since I read it, so I can't be more specific (I have memory problems due to depression), but it is well worth the read.

    Alcoholism and other addictions are considered disease and included under the heading mental illness.
     
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  19. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Something I just can't agree with. People choose to start drinking, doing drugs - nobody chooses to have a mental illness. But that's probably another topic.
     
  20. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Research is a tricky thing. We tend to believe if a study is reported, it must be reported correctly. But science news reporters are notoriously poor research reviewers.

    Then there's problem with the lay public not understanding, research in order to support conclusions must be repeatable. I cringe every time I hear a newscaster say, "we now know", or "researchers have discovered" because more than 3/4 of the time, the study in the report is far from conclusive about anything. In this case the researcher's findings were not supported by a number of other studies and it suffered from some significant methodological problems.

    The link I cited addressed this study from your link and noted:
    You really need to read the rest of the analysis to understand the full discussion of why the Kyaga findings do not support the conclusion.

     
  21. GingerCoffee
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    The problem is, a lot of people have mental illnesses and abuse drugs including alcohol. In order to prove a connection, you have to show more writers than in the general population have these conditions. Major studies according to the guy I cited do not find that association. He makes a very good case. I'm always open to new scientific findings. And maybe there is some new scientific evidence in brain studies. But I'd need to see the evidence before accepting the claims.

    They are romantic notions, the evil genius and the tortured writer. One should be especially careful accepting such confirmation biased prone conclusions.
     
  22. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    The fact is that creative people have less propensity for mental illness than non-creative people.
     
  23. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Source?

    In general, I think there's a big problem making any correlation, simply because one doesn't know if people with mental illnesses are drawn to creative pursuits (many of which are solitary, in particular writing) or if being creative includes a tendency for mental illnesses. Most studies have concluded there is no connection, and until that changes, I'm not going to perpetuate the myth.
     
  24. funkybassmannick
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    What gingercoffee's link says is whether or not they have an actual diagnosis. Of course, writing is a form of therapy, and so are the visual arts. Given this research, it could be possible that writers do struggle with mental illness (depression, anxiety, etc.) and work through their issues by writing about it to the point where they are no longer diagnosable.

    Also, here's a cool podcast where writers talk about their struggles with mental illness. They do think there's some kind of link and have some hypotheses at the end, of course they don't have this study.
     
  25. TimHarris
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    TimHarris Senior Member

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    Am I correct to assume you have little experience with drugs or being around people who do them? Drugs themselves are not the reason why many people do them. A lot of the times they are used as self medication to help coping with other problems like depression. I know this from experience. Often it is easy to look at drug usage from the outside and point fingers and blame, but for the ones with an addiction, it is an illness in every way.

    Most drug users don't actually have any problems with their drug use. It is only a small percentage who actually develop problems with their use, which points to an underlying cause, and not the drugs themselves. Addiction is one of the things scientists are still puzzled about.
     

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