A Link Between Writers, Schizophrenia and Suicide?

Credit: © Jan Matoska / Fotolia

People in creative professions are treated more often for mental illness
than the general population, according to a large-scale Swedish study.
Found this study from 2012 while researching a piece on creativity; it adds a twist to the old writer's joke, "Writer's block is when your voices stop talking to you."

Not only does the study - of 12 million subjects - link people who write with schizophrenia, it notes that writers are almost twice as likely as the general population to commit suicide.  

That is an alarming statistic, but for some reason I, at least, don't find it surprising based on my career experience as a writer.  Writing is results driven avocation, and it can be very frustrating dealing with creative directors, editors and producers who often aren't very clear on what they want but are so willing to tell you after the fact what they do want.  Combine that with the difficulty of selling unsolicited manuscripts and screenplays into which a person pours their heart and soul, well, it can end up with a very unhappy result.

Here's the study with a link to the original research report in the attribution.  And if you or someone you know is thinking of suicide, please make the call for help.  It's readily available and can save your friends and family the ultimate pain of loss.
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Link between creativity and mental illness 
confirmed in large-scale Swedish study

People in creative professions are treated more often for mental illness than the general population, there being a particularly salient connection between writing and schizophrenia. This according to researchers at Karolinska Institutet, whose large-scale Swedish registry study is the most comprehensive ever in its field.

Last year, the team showed that artists and scientists were more common among families where bipolar disorder and schizophrenia is present, compared to the population at large. They subsequently expanded their study to many more psychiatric diagnoses -- such as schizoaffective disorder, depression, anxiety syndrome, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, autism, ADHD, anorexia nervosa and suicide -- and to include people in outpatient care rather than exclusively hospital patients.

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The present study tracked almost 1.2 million patients and their relatives, identified down to second-cousin level. Since all were matched with healthy controls, the study incorporated much of the Swedish population from the most recent decades. All data was anonymized and cannot be linked to any individuals.

The results confirmed those of their previous study, that certain mental illness -- bipolar disorder -- is more prevalent in the entire group of people with artistic or scientific professions, such as dancers, researchers, photographers and authors. Authors also specifically were more common among most of the other psychiatric diseases (including schizophrenia, depression, anxiety syndrome and substance abuse) and were almost 50 per cent more likely to commit suicide than the general population.

Further, the researchers observed that creative professions were more common in the relatives of patients with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anorexia nervosa and, to some extent, autism. According to Simon Kyaga, Consultant in psychiatry and Doctoral Student at the Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, the results give cause to reconsider approaches to mental illness.

"If one takes the view that certain phenomena associated with the patient's illness are beneficial, it opens the way for a new approach to treatment," he says. "In that case, the doctor and patient must come to an agreement on what is to be treated, and at what cost. In psychiatry and medicine generally there has been a tradition to see the disease in black-and-white terms and to endeavor to treat the patient by removing everything regarded as morbid."

Story Source:  Materials provided by Karolinska Institutet. Simon Kyaga, Mikael Landén, Marcus Boman, Christina M. Hultman, Niklas Långström, Paul Lichtenstein. Mental illness, suicide and creativity: 40-Year prospective total population study. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 2012.

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