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Association Between Mental Illness and Creative Genius

  • Synopsis: Published: 2016-02-27 (Rev. 2017-06-27) - In creative geniuses, there exists a major variation from the usual of the inborn temperament. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Thomas C. Weiss at Disabled World.
Mental Illness

A mental disorder, also called a mental illness, psychological disorder or psychiatric disorder, is defined as a mental or behavioral pattern that causes either suffering or a poor ability to function in ordinary life. Mental health conditions means disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior. Some examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviors.

Main Document

Quote: "Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder are the three conditions that develop most often in those who are vulnerable."

An association exists between major forms of mental health disorders and creativity, since antiquity. The ancient Greeks considered both as, 'having been touched by the gods.' Aristoteles, in his perspicacity stated, 'There is no genius without having a touch of madness.' The phenomenon has been repeated again and again in studies of the past. Does one phenomenon cause the other, or do both share a common, underlying mechanism or factor? How are geniuses able to accomplish, 'creative fits?'

While the proposed origin and mechanism of the brain function of creative geniuses is novel, empirical evidence is available to support the theory. Empirical evidence demonstrates that major mental health disorders and creativity share a common pool made up of people with an extreme temperamental variant who - if endowed with other qualities such as tenacity, energy, high intelligence and curiosity and live in a nurturing environment can be creative geniuses. On the other hand, people with a similar temperament but who do not have the additional qualities form a common pool of people who are increased risk for a major mental health disorder.

Creativity, Mental Health and Temperament

'Temperament,' is defined as the particular inborn behavioral propensities for each person, which ultimately represents the final brain structural reality. It not only acts as an unfinished scaffold upon which the personality of the person is formed, but also guides the significance of environmental influences that are eventually embedded in the scaffold. Both constitute - along with ethos and learned attitudes, the final personality of the person.

Temperamental components seem to originate from two areas from our evolutionary past and are expressed in distinct clusters. The first cluster originates from the evolutionary pressures on the person, expressed as:

  • Aloofness
  • Selfishness
  • Inner directness
  • Self-serving calculations

The second area originates from the evolutionary pressures on the social aspects of human experience, such as:

  • Altruism
  • Empathy
  • Mutuality
  • Sociability
  • Cooperation
  • Connectedness
  • Loyalty to one's tribe

The two un-amalgamated clusters make up human nature. From an evolutionary perspective, the usually occurring small temperamental variability or, 'traits,' confers flexibility and resilience for the survival of the tribe as a whole, despite the advantage to the person. The mix of the temperamental components are often times not distributed evenly yet appear as clusters originating mainly from one or the other part of human nature; this creates the temperamental types, 'extrovert,' and, 'introvert.'

In creative geniuses, there exists a major variation from the usual of the inborn temperament. The variant lies beyond the usually occurring variability. Referring to major mental health disorders, Freud called it, 'narcissistic neuroses.' The extreme variant is also found in other people at risk for major mental health disorders. When and if a major mental health disorder does develop, the person's pre-existing lopsided traits manifest in premorbid personality.

Findings from clinical empirical evidence indicate the extreme variant originates largely from evolutionary pressures and is shared by potential geniuses and other people. Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder are the three conditions that develop most often in those who are vulnerable. The conditions may overlap or switch from one to another. Relapses have traditionally been attributed to comorbidity; however, each syndrome may be considered as a different phase of the same disorder. Clinical evidence points toward a common neurodevelopmental origin for all three. Similar results have also been found in recent genetic studies.

Those affected are to different degrees more self-centered, less social and aloof. They might exhibit remarkable, 'learned,' civility and affability, yet they are - to various degrees, inner-directed, autonomous and deficient in connectedness and empathy. They tend to, 'think,' the world instead of feeling it. People with this temperament behave unusually and are often times perceived as being:

  • Fickle
  • Strange
  • Peculiar
  • Idiosyncratic

They are often dysphoric and tend to feel aloneness and an inner void. On occasion, this progresses to episodes of precipitous depression and may lead to substance abuse or even suicide. These people exhibit a kind of, 'Robinson Crusoe of the spirit,' although - as in instances of talented performers, it might generate great affection, merriment and enthusiasm in their audience. These people are racked by mood oscillations and doubts and they are often captives of compulsive rituals.

Creativity, Mental Health Disorders and Proposed Mechanisms

A large portion of our brain's function is usually allocated for social intercourse and for the, 'give-and-take,' inherent in myriad social interactions. People are social beings, our phenomenal evolutionary success as a species depend on this. This dedicated-to-social-functioning part of our brains fosters the development of cooperation, empathy and altruism. It helps us to discern emotionally the intentions and feelings of others and to interact with other people. All of these factors form the second part of our nature, which originates from the evolutionary pressure of the social aspects of the human experience.

The deficiency or absence of the social algorithms in brain function frees incredible power in the brains of temperamentally lopsided people. This power then becomes available for creative processes in the right person. Creative people are now able to think in alternatives and conciliate and synthesize patterns to come up with unique solutions to apparently intractable problems and/or create incredible works of art that emotionally mobilize us to narratives of human predicaments.

Moreover, creative geniuses envision new and comprehensively applicable paradigms of the workings of nature. They bypass our evolutionary limits of comprehension and invent ways to access the mathematical arrangement of nature - thereby conceiving; for example, quantum mechanics. Although often exhibiting a learned civility, people affected by mental health disorders might nevertheless be deficient in understanding the algorithms that help people to perceive and understand the emotional gestalt, state of mind and intentions needed for social interaction. This lopsided variant, deficient in social algorithms, might be related to the autistic spectrum, or to traumatic brain injury.

Learn More About Mental Illness and Creativity

The Impact of Giftedness on Psychological Well-being:

Is There a Link Between Intelligence and Mental Illness?

The Links Between Creativity, Intelligence, and Mental Illness:

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