Are Depression and Creativity Related?
Many famous creative minds have been plagued with depression, from writers like Ernest Hemmingway and Kurt Vonnegut to comic actors like as Ellen DeGeneres and Robin Williams. Although it’s unfair to say that depression fosters creative talent (or vice versa), there does seem to be an undeniable connection.
In fact, psychologists have found that the creative mindset is quite compatible with the depressive mindset – for better or worse. But once you understand how your creativity can work against you and your depression, you’ll stand a better chance of getting it to work for you, and maybe even develop a healthy new skill set.
The Link between Creativity and Depression
There’s no easy way to explain the number of creative minds that have been affected by depression, but psychologists point out that those who dwell on thoughts and ideas often experience deeper depression. In fact, there are convincing theories that creativity and depression can feed each other, especially when it comes to the creative thinking process – or its suppression:
- Holding back creative urges can foster depression. Many famous female artists, writers and performers have experienced various mood disorders, but then there are plenty of women who have become depressed in the opposite circumstances. Studies have shown that young girls expressing independent thoughts frequently suffer from criticism and discouragement, and it’s no surprise that creativity will suffer in those cases. Psychologists point out that extreme stress, neurotic behavior, substance abuse and depression are all common manifestations when creativity is suppressed.
- Ruminating on thoughts can sustain depression. Creative people tend to think more, and think more about their thoughts. In fact, creative minds spend a good deal of their time making sense of their thoughts, working out their ideas, and connecting their small experiences to better understand their life. In turn, the emotional dips are much more difficult to overcome: instead of replacing negative thoughts with a welcome distraction, creative minds are more likely to go over and over the feeling or event in their head. This can result in a loop of sadness, anxiety or feelings of failure.
- Perfectionism and ambition can benefit from depression. Depression can also feed creativity. In many cases, the creative drive to build on your ideas, do better, and accomplish more is naturally motivated by depression. Evolutionary psychology suggests that by keeping you focused on where you can improve – and why you should – depressive symptoms can lead you to become a stronger, more effective individual. So, the good news is that those creative minds that can overcome the initial emotional turmoil will probably emerge with a more positive, proactive, and inspired attitude.
Although there may be a silver lining, taking advantage of the depression-creativity connection isn’t easy. Simply concentrating on being creative – or worse, minimalizing your depression symptoms by chalking them up to a “creative personality” – can be stressful, and even dangerous.
Be sure to devote time to treating your depression, which means working with your doctor and therapist to find the best medication or therapeutic technique for you. In many cases, the right outlet can help you focus your creative energy in healthy and healing ways.