The Love-Hate Relationship Between Creativity And Mental Disorders

DISCLAIMER: This article was originally posted on Odyssey.


While it is true that creativity and mental disorders such as pervasive depression disorder, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia can coexist, that connection cannot be simplified in such a way as to imply that great art can only be inspired by great suffering. The factors that can provide that connection can come from inside the brain itself. The connection between creativity and mental disorders is complex and requires looking into it, not to find just the causation of creativity, but also about the process of its creation.

Creativity can only exist within mentally ill people when their ailments do not prevent them from doing so. Julia Wilde of Discovery News said eloquently that “Many creative types find themselves disabled by their disorders just as often as they are inspired by them.” Not only that, but mental disorders are quite different in terms of how they impact the brain. In the case of depressives, since their prefrontal lobes are shrunken, they do not find satisfaction in anything. It is only when their dopamine levels increase that they become creative. Whereas, people with schizophrenia have incredibly high levels of dopamine and hyperactivity in the frontal lobe, which can result in blurring between reality and fiction.

In some ways, it can be argued that the stereotype of the “Tortured Artist” is itself harmful, as it only implies that creative people can only be taken seriously and their works can only be regarded with awe when they have a mental disorder. Although famous artists and writers such as Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Edgar Allan Poe, and Vincent Van Gogh are the prime examples when it comes to this connection, it is not inherent within talented artists to have a mental disorder. According to Anthony Fantano, a well-known YouTuber who reviews music, who has more than one million subscribers, great art mainly consists of communication and skill.

It would make sense that people with mental disorders are more inclined to creativity, especially when these mental disorders consist of dwelling on negative thoughts and memories. By obsessing over them, they also include a myriad of solutions unique to those problems. It is even proven that the precuneus, the center of the brain responsible for retrieving those memories, remains active among creative people during the process of thought, whereas in any other normal functioning brain it remains deactivated. So the internal struggle may not simply be the inspiration for great works of art, but it is an assisting component. Not only does problem-solving become a major skill in this complex relationship, but Professor Nancy Andreason of the University of Auckland argued it also includes exploration, doubt, and curiosity.

Genetics may also play a role in mental disorders. A prime example would be the prevalence of suicide among Ernest Hemingway’s own family members. As it turns out, in a study conducted on Icelanders, Swedes, and Dutch people, people in creative professions have a 17-25% greater chance of being diagnosed with a mental disorder than people in non-creative professions, and this was proven by examining the genetics of creative people when looking at the prevalence of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

These “tortured artists” do not gain their innovation because of their disease, rather they gain it to counteract the disease by compensating that temporary lack of dopamine with tremendous bursts of creativity. The concept of mental disorders include many types of that affect the brain in different ways, which adds to the complexity of the “Tortured Artist” connection. I will definitely say that mental illness is not something that can lead to great works of art, but great works of art can be the treatment. Adrienne Sussman, from the Stanford Journal of Neuroscience, agrees by stating “…instead of trying to eliminate them [mental illness] by medication, we should embrace these mental states as valuable in their own right.” No amount of prescriptions and anti-depressants can fix the complexities that exist within mental disorders and art can provide an in-sight and, quite possibly, the remedy for them.

Who Really Owns Land? Us Or The People Native To It?

There is this interesting website called Native Land which pinpoints any indigenous nation that held original claim to any land where an address or city is typed in. This map also includes information about indigenous claims in Australia, New Zealand, Greenland, Canada, Central America, and South America.

As I can see in the featured photo, my entire state belongs to the Lenape nation. I would say that it belongs to them because there are plenty of place-names that are derived from their language. It does shame me that New Jersey is known less as Lenapehoking and more as America’s embarrassment.

It should be noted that this app was invented by a Canadian programmer named Victor Temprano who learned about Indigenous land ownership in British Columbia. The juxtapositions of Indigenous studies and programming really do show that this interdisciplinary track really can create unique results. In this unique result, it raised the very question I addressed in this blog, which is the fact that indigenous people deserve more credit than already given, since they are tied to the land, in such a way that their own language and ways of living are encoded by it.

Although the website itself claims that it is not for use in legal matters, such as tribal and governmental disputes, there are mentions of the treaties involved. So, it really does bring into question whether we (as in descendants of the original colonizers and the immigrants) really hold claim to land and whether we truly know about it. When Temprano was creating this app, the indigenous maps of Indigenous territories became sources more important than the written and oral histories (which are only referenced when there is no map). To be indigenous to a land means to be the original dwellers on it and to have lived on it for thousands of years. Compare that to the (at most) 500 years that the colonizers have lived and thrived off the land. It is a blip compared to the intrinsic connection indigenous peoples have to their land.

The concept of land ownership itself is different among native peoples. In their cultures, they are not entitled to the land, but beholden to the land. In other words, they do not abuse it, rather they depend on it. This is the exact case of the Lakota nation, who were known to have made every use of a single buffalo. So this symbiotic relationship, as Professor Patricia A. Shaw described, would have been established since their hides were used for tipis, clothing, and moccasins; bones for needle and awl; and meat for sustenance.

If there is not any legal controversies that would exist, then the purpose of Native Land would be for educational purposes, letting tourists and non-natives in general know that the area they are visiting originally belongs to the tribe that dwelled on it. This was a point raised by journalist Leena Minifie, who is one of Temprano’s collaborators and is from the Gitxaala Nation in Tsimshian land.

The fact that indigenous peoples are made to publicly acknowledge their land, whether it is in an empty stretch of land or a metropolitan area, can lead to further inquiry about how those people lived on that land before colonization. Since the Australian city Adelaide acknowledged the Kaurna nation’s indigenous status, this lead to their website posting the original Kaurna names and pronunciations of parks, squares, and bridges.

There is this word that I see used a lot, which is “decolonization.” It does not necessarily mean non-natives emigrating from lands that were settled, rather it means an incremental inclusion of Indigenous knowledge, in such a way that it has authority in places wherever it exists, such as academia. This definitely has to do with the use of rivers. There was a case in British Columbia where an agreement was reached between the BC government and the indigenous tribes of the Broughton archipelago that there would need to be consent given by the tribes in order to farm salmon. That case has been part of an ongoing debate about the term “consent” and how much power the indigenous community has to determine whether a company is to set its designs on the rivers or the landscape. That word alone would provide a discussion about indigenous ownership of the land, whether they were already recognized or if they are making claims of recognition. It would also uncover the jurisdiction over land that either the national government or the tribal government has.

There is definitely a case to be made about land ownership as it applies to the native population. It would definitely make non-natives more educated about the land they are living in and not take it for granted. Doing so would make the indigenous community more relevant and no longer as a forgotten part of history and would provide them more jurisdiction over the lands they originally came from.