Artists, writers, poets, musicians, and others pursuing creative endeavors are often plagued by depression and severe mood swings. It appears that there is a very fine line between the creative genius and mental disorder. In fact, one of the hallmarks of bipolar disorder is uncontrollable mood swings, which can result in alternating periods of depression and elation. It is often during these periods of elation – when bipolar sufferers experience boughts of insomnia and restlessness – that their creative mind is at its best. Now, a new study has shown that there may in fact be a link between mental disorders like bipolar disorder and having a high IQ or being highly creative.
The study was conducted by teams from the Institute on Psychiatry at King’s College London and from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. They reviewed the final exam results from Swedish students, ages fifteen to sixteen, who attended high school between 1988 and 1997. The teams compared these outcomes with the admissions of bipolar patients, ages seventeen to thirty-one. They discovered that students who obtained “A” grades on the exams were almost four times as likely to be admitted for bipolar disorder as those who achieved average grades. The researchers made an even stronger case for the link by factoring in the income and education levels of the students’ parents. Further, they found that those students who obtained very low exam grades were also more likely to develop bipolar disorder than those with average grades. In this study, male students exhibited the link between achievement and mental disorder at a higher rate than females.
The teams further explored the link by trying to uncover what, if any, role the specific subject areas played in the link. They found that those who excelled in the humanities, such as art, music, and literature, exhibited more tendencies of the disorder than those achieving high grades in other subjects. This is not surprising, as many famous authors and artists, such as Virginia Woolf and Vincent Van Gogh, are thought to have had suffered from bipolar disorder. The researchers explained that they believed that this link exhibits itself because those with bipolar disorder can capitalize on the manic side of the condition, which allows them to be inventive, energetic, focused, and open to new ideas. They can use this period to their advantage as they create stories, poems, paintings, songs, etc. Conversely, those who are not creative or are low achievers, yet still exhibit bipolar disorder, may have decreased motor skills due to neurodevelopmental abnormalities.
Still, there is no need to think that because you enjoy writing short stories or that your son thrives on coloring, that either of you will develop bipolar disorder. Additional studies will be needed regarding this link, and the majority of high achievers and creative types never have the disease. It is important, however, if other symptoms exist, such as severe mood swings, inability to concentrate or become motivated, and depression, that you seek professional help. The disorder can be disruptive and difficult to manage without medical intervention. Moreover, an early diagnosis and treatment can also pave the way for you to file for and receive social security benefits should you be unable to work because of the disabling symptoms. If your bipolar disorder interferes with your ability to work, then applying for disability is the smart thing to do.