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Bipolar Disorder and Creativity: Is There a Link?

There is a popular notion that bipolar disorder and creativity are linked. You may be familiar with famous writers, musicians, poets, and artists who also had bipolar. Creative geniuses with mental illness have included:1,2

  • Painter Vincent van Gogh
  • Writer Ernest Hemingway
  • Poet Walt Whitman

Are people with bipolar disorder more likely to be creative? Do they experience creativity differently from those without bipolar disorder? Does their creativity affect their bipolar? Research has shown mixed results.1-3

Does bipolar disorder foster creativity?

Bipolar disorder affects up to 2.4 percent of the population worldwide. It is the fifth leading cause of disability. Yet many people with bipolar report positive sides of their illness. For example, they may feel:1

  • An increased range and depth of emotions
  • Heightened connection with others
  • Better connected to the natural world
  • More empathy, self-awareness, and self-confidence
  • Enhanced productivity and creativity

All of these positive experiences of bipolar may support the last item on the list: enhanced productivity and creativity. But the exact nature of the link between bipolar disorder and creativity is still being explored.1

Many people with bipolar who are in the manic state report feeling intense bouts of creativity. It is also common to hear these people state that their elevated mood nurtures their creativity.1

One survey found that 82 percent of those with bipolar disorder felt more creative when manic. But those reporting increased creativity also reported a more creative personality type overall.1

Yet a different study found different results. This one looked at 12 research studies but was not able to link bipolar with heightened creativity. More research is needed to better understand the link between these.3

This or That

Does creativity help you manage your mental health?

Is there a genetic link between bipolar and creativity?

In those without bipolar, the genes SLC6A4 and NRG1 are linked to creativity.2

SLC6A4 is involved in moving serotonin. Serotonin is a brain chemical that carries messages throughout the body. It plays a key role in balancing mood.2,4

NRG1 is linked to creativity in those with and without bipolar disorder. A variant of this gene is linked to an increased risk of psychosis. Psychosis happens when the mind loses touch with reality and when the person experiences things that are not real.2

Experts think there is evidence to support a link between bipolar and creativity. But, at the same time, the number of creative people does not differ between those with bipolar disorder and those without it.2,3

Does creativity affect the symptoms of bipolar?

It is not clear if being creative affects bipolar symptoms. But being in a manic state may help creativity. This is because mania may include racing thoughts. This may boost the number of thoughts, which may foster unique ideas and connections.3

But research shows creative people with bipolar disorder are most productive when their bipolar symptoms are well controlled.2

Does creativity affect the treatment of bipolar?

Being creative will not affect how well bipolar treatments work. But being creative may affect how motivated someone with bipolar is to get treatment – or stick with it.2

Some people with bipolar disorder stop taking their medicine because they feel it dulls their creativity. Others may take less than their prescribed dose to try to balance creativity and treatment. Neither approach is recommended.2

If you are a creative person with bipolar, talk to your doctor. Ask how to best manage your drugs to support your creativity. You may want to discuss how your drugs make you feel. Or you may want to ask about alternative drugs. Let your doctor know how important your creativity is to you.2

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