New research suggests there may be a scientific basis for the notion that only a fine line separates madness and genius. Swedish researchers have found people in creative professions are treated more often for mental illness than the general population.
The study, published by researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, also found a particularly strong link between writing and schizophrenia.
Lead researcher Simon Kyaga, with the Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, suggested the results should prompt clinicians to reconsider approaches to treating mental illness for many patients.
"If one takes the view that certain phenomena associated with the patient's illness are beneficial, it opens the way for a new approach to treatment," he said. "In that case, the doctor and patient must come to an agreement on what is to be treated, and at what cost. In psychiatry and medicine generally there has been a tradition to see the disease in black-and-white terms and to endeavor to treat the patient by removing everything regarded as morbid."
To reach their conclusions, Kyaga and colleagues tracked nearly 1.2 million mental-health patients and their relatives, and compared them to a similar number of healthy people. The results indicated certain mental illnesses — bipolar disorder, for instance — is more prevalent among people with artistic or scientific professions, such as dancers, researchers, photographers, and authors. Writers specifically had far higher rates of psychiatric diseases — including schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse — and were almost 50 percent more likely to commit suicide than the general population.
In addition, the researchers observed that creative professions were more common in the relatives of patients with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anorexia nervosa, and autism.