Many people who work in creative professions bristle at this stereotype, but there may be some validity to the concept of artists and creative types being more susceptible to mental health disorders. That's according to Elizabeth Stringer, PhD, who teaches at the William Alanson White Institute in New York City.

"While it's not true that most artists are crazy, there is a higher rate of psychopathology among artists than among the general public," says Stringer. This finding comes from a literature review she conducted more than a decade ago as part of her broader research effort exploring the effects of psychotherapy on writers' creativity.  Most of the studies focused mainly on writers, with the most common diagnoses being affective disorder and alcoholism

The Link Between Mental Health Disorders and Creativity

Stringer speculates that the connection between affective disorder and creativity likely comes from the fact that the mild and controlled manic state that often accompanies affective disorder can help writers to have more energy and to function with little sleep-both factors that can increase productivity.

While the link between creativity and depression is less obvious, she says that one hypothesis is that people who are depressed are frequently dealing with issues of loss and mourning. "Mourning may facilitate creativity by releasing energy from the relationship with the lost person or idea into the creative work, while at the same time, maintaining a close connection with the loss," she explains. "The need to then express the loss to the wider world establishes a deeper connection, both to the person themselves and to others, which eases feelings of loss and isolation."

While Stringer's findings were limited to these two main diagnoses, she points out that researchers Kay Jamison, PhD, and Nancy C. Andreasen, MD, PhD. also found a link exists between creative folks and bipolar disorder. Interestingly enough, Stringer points out that the connection seems to have a genetic component, since some studies found not only a much higher rate of creativity among people with bipolar disorder, but also among first-degree relatives of the person who is bipolar.

Will Therapy Thwart Creativity?

It's been debated that some of the greatest literary works may not exist, if not for the state of mind of the writer. Regardless of the specific diagnosis, Stringer's own research found that psychotherapy doesn't ultimately hamper the writer's creative process, nor his or her productivity. There was even evidence that some writer's work could benefit during the psychotherapy process.

Good news for writers grappling with mental health issues, since it means that it's possible to feel better without fear of suppressing their creative success.

In fact, Stringer says she has found that when working with artists in her private practice, "the more the problematic parts get treated and get taken out of the way, the more creativity actually gets expressed."

The Benefits of Creativity for Everyone

Of course, the very act of being creative is beneficial. You don't have to be writing the great American novel or painting a masterpiece to reap the benefits.. "I think all forms of creative expression are therapeutic if the person enjoys them," Stringer says. "Aside from the therapeutic value of achieving a state of 'flow,' what is bothering someone often lies dormant and unformulated in his or her mind or body, and creative expression, writing or any other form, verbal or non-verbal, helps formulate and organize the issue so that it seems less overwhelming."  

So, even if you're not dealing with a mental health condition, enrolling in a writing, painting or music class may be a good outlet to help you deal with every day stress.

Elizabeth Stringer, PhD, reviewed this article.


Elizabeth D. Stringer, The emotional lives of writers and the development of their work: Effects of psychotherapy on writers' productivity Adelphi University: The Institute of Advanced Psychological Studies, 1993.

Elizabeth D. Stringer, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist - Psychoanalyst, Email interview. Dec. 15, 2013.