Creativity and mental health

December 9th, 2015 in Features

Guest editor, Dudley Stein, reviews Kay Redfield Jamison’s book, Touched with Fire and discusses whether there really is a link between creativity and mental health.

Throughout the modern era it can undoubtedly be said that many great works of art have been produced from the minds of those afflicted with a mental health condition.

From Edgar Allen Poe and Friedrich Nietzsche, to Kurt Cobain and Stephen Fry, each of these remarkable people have left their mark on the world and indeed, the very society we live in.

The connection between creativity and mental health is deeply explored in the book “Touched with Fire” written by Kay Redfield Jamison – who in fact has Bipolar disorder.

Not only does the book approach the idea of “madness” with quotes, memoires and thoughtful narrative, but it also has pages dedicated to providing statistics which helps to emphasise the creativity and productivity while contrasting that to low or high moods.

However, as Stephen Fry had once said, “a mental health condition does not always come with creativity”.

This is true as some conditions maybe be so debilitating that the person afflicted may have zero motivation or even the creative mind to create outstanding works of art.

Therefore I believe the book is slightly biased, as creativity does not hinge upon one’s mental wellbeing but instead, creativity comes from life experience.

It is therefore unfair to imply that only those with a mental illness see the world differently, as everyone is an individual.

Perhaps instead it is not ‘mental illness’ versus ‘normalcy’ but being ‘down to earth’ versus ‘aloof’.

Depending on how an individual perceives the world, he or she will react to life experiences in either a positive or negative way.

It may or may not bring about a mental health condition but nonetheless, the experiences can become a source of imagination and creativity anyway.

Regardless, the book has inspirational connotations, especially for someone who has only recently been diagnosed with a mental health condition.

The book is motivational, generally optimistic and reassuring as it shows notable people from throughout history and the impact they’ve had on the world that they had lived in.

It is understandable to see that those with a mental health condition feel that they see everything differently, as mental health can make one feel isolated and stigmatised, but the book does well in comforting the reader, letting them know that they are not alone and that others have or have had similar experiences.

To summarise my reporting on the book, it is best used in the hands of those who can relate with mental health issues, either by having them or knowing someone who does.

However it is too subjective and general for someone wishing to study the subjects of psychology.

I would recommend this book to anyone experiencing tough times, and if they find it interesting I would further recommend Stephen Fry’s documentary “Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive”.