Charles Dickens, Van Gogh, Beethoven. These geniuses all suffered from bipolar disorder. Is there possibly a connection?
This is probably one of the aspects of bipolar disorder that awakens curiosity: people with bipolar disorder are said to be more creative and intelligent. The term creativity certainly has something to do with intelligence. It used to be thought that creativity was a gift from gods - today people know that creativity can to a large extent be connected to psychopathology.
Many studies indicate that mental illness and creativity are related. Experts from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden conducted a research with no less than 1.2 million people in order to determine if there was relation between creativity and mental illness. The results have shown that people who work in creative professions are more likely to be treated for mental illness. In 2011, they also proved that both artists and scientists were more likely to grow up in families that had bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
Of course, this finding required further research. In this second trial, they analyzed more than one million individuals with some type of mental diagnosis, such as bipolar disorder, ADHD or schizoaffective disorder. The result was predictable: it turned out that bipolar disorder occurs much more frequently in persons with artistic or scientific occupations, such as musicians, researchers, writers or photographers.
Another study - in this case in collaboration with the psychiatric institute of King's College London - analyzed the grades of compulsory exams that adolescents aged 15 and 16 have to undergo. Between years 1988 and 1997, a total of 714,000 people were interviewed and studied. Respondents with above-average scores were much more likely to develop bipolar disorder than those with average scores.
In trying to explain this, several theories have been proposed: some argue that a person in the state of hypomania can be ingenious and able to connect ideas in a novel way. Others, however, show that people with bipolar disorder often experience very intense emotions and that this can help them develop their talent in areas such as art, music or literature. It is clear that much still has to be researched in this field.
However, we cannot deny that many of the great geniuses at all times were affected by this disorder.
Geniuses with bipolar disorder
Charles Dickens, one of the most popular writers in world literature, was recognized and respected by his intellectual brilliance and self-taught character. Due to his changeable personality it is believed today that the English novelist suffered from bipolar disorder. Fragments like this: "It was the best of all times, it was the worst of all times ... it was the season of light, it was the season of dark, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of desperation" , testify the roller coaster of emotions Dickens was living through.
Another genius, one of the most important representatives of post-impressionism, Van Gogh, suffered from bipolar disorder. It is believed that e.g. a picture like "The Starry Night" - the famous dark blue picture with yellow street lamps - was painted during a manic phase.
As for the music, Beethoven, one of the most extraordinary composers in history, was another of the great geniuses affected by this disease. With an irascible character and a tendency to depression, the German composer had a problematic life - also due to his progressing deafness - and proved a geniality against which he did not tolerate any objection: he did not hesitate to interrupt his play when someone in the audience began to whisper.
But we shouldn’t just talk about personalities from other eras. Some celebrities of this century, such as Francis Ford Coppola, the famous US film director, or the creator of CNN, Ted Turner, have also announced that they are living with this disorder. No one doubts that they are people with a special talent, with exuberant creativity and an unstoppable professional career. Knowing that personalities of this magnitude have succeeded, and have developed personally and professionally, is something we should think of from time to time - it feels good.
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