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Researchers Confirm Link Between Creativity and Mental Illness

Bipolar disorder more prevalent among people in artistic or scientific professions (Oct. 16)

According to research conducted at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, people in creative professions are treated more often for mental illness than the general population.

Last year, the team showed that artists and scientists were more common among families where bipolar disorder and schizophrenia were present, compared with the population at large. The researchers subsequently expanded their study to include other psychiatric diagnoses — such as schizoaffective disorder, depression, and anxiety syndrome — and to include patients in outpatient care rather than just those in hospitals.

The new study tracked almost 1.2 million patients and their relatives, identified down to second-cousin level. Since all were matched with healthy controls, the study incorporated much of the Swedish population from the most recent decades.

The results confirmed those of the previous study: bipolar disorder was more prevalent in people with artistic or scientific professions, such as dancers, researchers, photographers, and authors. In addition, writers were common among patients with most of the other psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia, depression, anxiety syndrome, and substance abuse, and were almost 50% more likely to commit suicide compared with the general population.

According to Simon Kyaga, consultant in psychiatry and doctoral student in the Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, the results suggest that current treatment approaches to mental illness should be reconsidered.

"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 says. "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 disease in black-and-white terms and to endeavor to treat the patient by removing everything regarded as morbid."

Source: Karolinska Institute, October 16, 2012.

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