News Flash: Writers are Mental

A Swedish study just confirmed what just about every writer already knows: writers and other creative people suffer mental disorders like depression, anxiety, and substance abuse much more than our non-creative counterparts; we’re almost twice as likely to commit suicide.

The study doesn’t venture too much into causes; in science, correlation can’t be assumed to equal causation. But Pandora Young at Fishbowl LA may have hit the nail on the head: she blames “the collapse of the print industry, lousy wages,” and the persistent discrimination those of us with two X chromosomes still face. Young recommends you “may want to think about seeing a psychiatrist. Assuming you’re lucky enough to have health insurance…”

However, as the BBC News noted, “lead researcher Dr. Simon Kyaga said the findings suggested … certain traits might be beneficial or desirable,” for example, the intense focus of those with autism, the drive of those with bipolar disorder, or the inspiration that can come from the disordered thoughts of those with schizophrenia.

For myself, a diagnosed depressive, I find my feelings of being an outsider make me a very effective observer, an important trait in a writer (especially of non-fiction). Taking the time to note details about people and places gives me a wonderful catalog of images and sensory details to pull from in my writing. In addition, my introspective nature (which I’m not sure correlates with depression, but it seems to) allows me – or rather, compels me – to spend lots of time alone with my thoughts, which is also necessary for writing.

On the other hand, the lack of work that pays a living wage and lets me utilize my writing skills is frustrating, maddeningly so. I often struggle with feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and worry because of this. It seems to me that being creative – writing, painting, composing, etc.  – is itself a kind of mental disorder, a strange obsession to make something that really has no practical use. Yet if we’re prevented from writing, or painting, or composing, we suffer the same anxiety, frustration, etc., that any other obsessive/compulsive personality would.

I would love to hear from other writers, to get their perspectives on this.


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