New research shows people with bipolar disorder – and siblings of
people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder – are more likely to
work in creative professions. The study
published in the November issue of the British Journal of
, lends further support to the commonly-held view
that creativity is associated with mental disorder.
Researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in
Sweden studied the occupations of over 300,000 patients who had
received inpatient treatment for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or
depression between 1973 and 2003, and their relatives who did not
have a diagnosis of mental disorder. The patients and their
non-diagnosed relatives were compared to a control group.
People’s professions were categorised using
the Nordic Classification of Occupations. Creative professions
include both scientific jobs (such as university teachers) and
artistic jobs (designers, performing artists, musicians and
The team found that people with bipolar
disorder were over-represented in creative professions. However,
this was not true for people with schizophrenia or depression.
The researchers also found that the healthy
siblings of people with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia were
more likely to hold creative occupations than the control
Lead researcher Dr Simon Kyaga said:
“Creativity has long been associated with mental disorder,
epitomised by Aristotle’s alleged claim that ‘no great genius has
ever existed without a strain of madness’. Our study, which is much
larger than previous studies, shows that people with bipolar
disorder, and their siblings, are more likely to work in creative
Kay Redfield Jamison, Professor of Psychiatry
at the John Hopkins University of Medicine, welcomed the research.
in an editorial in the same issue of the British Journal of
Psychiatry, Professor Jamison said: “This large, well-designed
study by Kyaga and his associates gives support to accumulating
evidence showing a disproportionately high rate of mental illness,
especially bipolar disorder, in creative individuals.
“No one would argue that there is a
straightforward relationship between psychopathology and
creativity. Most people who are creative do not have mental
illness, and most people who are mentally ill are not unusually
creative. It is, rather, that there is a disproportionate rate of
psychopathology, especially bipolar disorder, in highly creative
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Kyaga S, Lichtenstein P, Boman M, Hultman C, Långström N and Landén M. Creativity and mental disorder: family study of 300,000 patients with severe mental disorder. British Journal of Psychiatry 2011; 199:373-379
Jamison KR. Great wits and madness: more near allied? British Journal of Psychiatry 2011; 199:351-352