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Creativity and Mood Disorders

(CNN) -- The works of David Foster Wallace, who committed suicide September 12, are famous for their obsessively observed detail and emotional nuance.

Certain characteristics of his prose -- hypersensitivity and constant rumination, or persistent contemplation -- reflect a pattern of temperament that some psychology researchers say connects mental illness, especially bipolar disorder and depression, with creativity.

There have been more than 20 studies that suggest an increased rate of bipolar and depressive illnesses in highly creative people, says Kay Redfield Jamison, professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University and author of the "An Unquiet Mind," a memoir of living with bipolar disorder.

Experts say mental illness does not necessarily cause creativity, nor does creativity necessarily contribute to mental illness, but a certain ruminating personality type may contribute to both mental health issues and art.

"Unquestionably, I think a major link is to the underlying temperaments of both bipolar illness and depression, of reflectiveness and so forth," Jamison said.


Article continues to look at available evidence of the links between creativity and mood disorders and how the manner of thinking influences the ability to write, for example.

I was recently reading the book Live Through This: On Creativity and Self-Destruction and pondering these very issues. I wondered whether I would be willing to give up my writing in order to enjoy full mental health, if that were the only way it could be accomplished. I wondered about all the people who were intensely creative but were never able to reach a national audience because the mood disorder so disabled them that they couldn't do the business of marketing their work. I wondered about the people who kill themselves before they ever get published. I wonder if depression wasn't in the way, would my work be even better? Would I be more prolific? Would I have the self confidence to market myself?

And I have to wonder if writing a memoir of a life shot through with depression and including a parent who was also depressive is possible without spiraling so far down I won't get back out again.
Tags: bio, depression, writing
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