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Creativity and Mental Health

History is littered with examples about how creative people have suffered from challenges associated with mental health. The theories date back to the ancient Greeks and over the centuries, examples of celebrated creative geniuses like Hemingway, Woolfe, Van Gogh and more recently the tragic loss of beloved comedian Robin Williams have raised the debate about relationships between creativity and mental health.

Research has been conducted in recent years but with many different conclusions drawn. Some indicate a possible connection, others claim no connection and a few are inconclusive. The fascinating BBC article ‘Does mental illness enhance creativity?’ explores the implications for all this research but ultimately there is no verifiable statement that if you are a creative person, you are more or less likely to experience mental health problems.

If you are a creative person or working in a creative job (the two are not always inclusive), you might have read some of these stories and be worried about how this affects you. Does being an artist, painter or blogger make me more susceptible? I am a creative person and I have suffered from mental health problems including severe depression as a teenager. I am not armed with research analysis or statistics from thousands of sources, I am armed with a little experience and an informed perspective.

Creativity is not dependent on mental health – though I often hear related terms such as “writers block” and “losing my mojo”, I see these as personal challenges not blockers. Think of a hurdle race; the runner needs that extra burst of energy to get over the hurdles and so do creative people (though the challenge often requires more than just an extra ten percent of effort).

There is no exclusivity when it comes to mental health issues.

Creativity is fed by motivation – often the most successful creative people are highly motivated to achieve success. Pure creation is not a casual act for the creator. Every art form has targets, deadlines and expectations to maintain which can require intense levels of enthusiasm. Keeping your motivation high is a significant challenge if you are suffering from poor mental health regardless of your profession or inclination.

Creativity can fuel your symptoms – sometimes an active imagination can be a challenge when dealing with mental health problems and their symptoms. Paranoia is a good example of a factor that can be amplified in naturally creative individuals. This is where it is important to be in complete control of your creativity, not letting it get the better of you.

Creativity can be an outlet – the stereotype of the reclusive writer or the artist drawing inspiration from solitude is a myth; while many creative people are introverts by nature, their passion is primarily to create something that is shared with and brings joy to many. That creation can facilitate the sharing your experiences and help you to heal (as someone who wrote a novel centering around teenage depression, this is something I learnt firsthand).

Creativity can be your weapon – being creative is not just about producing quality art, it can be about innovative thinking and problem solving. Turning a negative into a positive and using imagination as a force for good can realise more benefits for yourself. What better future to imagine than one where your issues are gone and your dreams become real? There are techniques such as meditation that really lend themselves to the creative mindset.

Creativity can help you express yourself – if you have ever struggled to find the words to tell someone how you are feeling or what you are going through, remember that the words are there. An innovative vernacular might be useful to make your story more eloquent and maybe a talented actor can portray the emotions better on stage but the trick is to know how you feel and find a way to express it so others can empathise with your issues.

You do not need to be a creative person to suffer from mental health problems, just as you do not need to be a creative person to resolve them. Reflect on who you are and it will help you find the most constructive answers to your mental health challenges.

Do you have a creative project that helps you address your mental health, something that you want to share? Comment on the blog to share your ideas with others.

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