Creativity Doesn’t Require Suffering
Contrary to romanticized images of the depressed poet or Vincent Van Gogh cutting off his ear and eating yellow paint, mental illness is not a prerequisite to great artistic talent and creativity isn’t a side effect or perk of being mentally ill.
According to the Scientific American, there is no sound research supporting the idea that mental illness and creativity are interlinked. They also go further to point out the difference between mania and creativity, stating that the former is spontaneous and lacks guidance or purpose, while creativity is intentional and focused. Mental illness might influence an artist’s work, as many artists use their gift as a healthy coping mechanism. But an artist would still be an artist, whether they suffered any brain abnormalities or not.
Now that this is clear, it’s important for creative individuals to know how seriously they must take their mental health. According to MentalHealth.org, seven percent of adults in the United States experience a major depressive disorder. Poor mental health has implications that go beyond the mind as it affects the physical body as well, which affects your work.
Fatigue, headaches, hunger (excessive or lack thereof), digestive issues, muscle and joint aches, weight fluctuations, brain fog, and sleep disturbances all take turns chipping away at a creative’s work, rending it a fragment of what was intended. Additionally, people with mental illness tend to neglect other aspects of their lives including exercise, nutrition, relationships, and their homes—all factors needed to maintain a healthy balance.
For artists, stress resulting from deficiencies in these areas syphons their creativity. Even famously ill artists, such as the aforementioned Van Gogh, were only able to produce artwork during periods of low-level mental turmoil.
For artists who suffer from mood disorders such as depression, it can be disheartening to be expected to channel pain into their art when they can’t even will themselves out of bed. Lack of motivation to create or do anything fuels the depressive spiral. This is why it is so important for creatives to take their mental health seriously. The mind is anyone’s greatest asset, but especially so when you’re an artist.
The National Institute of Mental Health (nimh.nih.gov) offers information and a list of resources including insurance for individuals seeking help. If in need of immediate assistance, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available at 1.800.273.8255, as well as via their online chat at suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat. IMAlive (imalive.org) is another online crisis network. If it is an emergency, call 911.
It’s time to release the glorified idea of the tortured artist. No one has to suffer in order to create meaningful work, and beauty and inspiration are abundant in the process of healing.