What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar Disorder is a type of mood disorder affecting about 1-1.5% of the adult population. It is characterised by episodes of depression as well as episodes of mania. Mania doesn't just mean 'happy' - it is characterised by inflated self-esteem and high levels of grandiosity, a severely decreased need for sleep, being extremely talkative, having an overwhelming amount of ideas, distractibility, increase in goal-directed activity, and excessive involvement in pleasurable activities such as sex, drugs, drinking, and risk-taking.
Just as depression is not the same as being a bit sad, mania is not the same as being very happy. Both of these are serious, clinical states.
Bipolar disorder normally develops around the age of 28 years old, however it can develop as early as teenage years. Those who develop bipolar disorder, are at a higher risk of developing other mental health problems such as anxiety disorders and impulse-control disorders (such as gambling or kleptomania).
The link to Creativity
Bipolar disorder has been slightly romanticised due to it's links with the creative professions. For example, the following people are thought to suffer or have suffered with Bipolar Disorder; Lily Allen, Russell Brand, Carrie Fisher, Tom Fletcher, Stephen Fry, and many more.
Many studies have looked at the link between having a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and being in a creative career. One large-scale study of 300,000 people hospitalised due to bipolar disorder, found that those with bipolar disorder are significantly over-represented in the creative arts fields. The author, Simon Kyaga, notes that "Most people with bipolar disorder are not more creative than the average person, but as a group [they] are more likely to be creative."
So, people with bipolar disorder do not have elevated levels of creativity, but people who are creative are more likely to develop bipolar disorder - according to Kyaga.
A major concern is that some individuals stop taking their medication in order to hold on to their creativity. People who are long-term sufferers of bipolar disorder know that they can be extremely productive and goal-oriented when they are not taking their medication, and therefore manipulate their medication at times. However this runs the risk of serious relapse, and the chances of experiencing mania (and therefore elevated creativity) are equal to the chances of experiencing a depressive episode.
Furthermore, it is not simply a case of being very productive and goal-oriented during an episode of mania, there are times when those experiencing mania think up so many ideas, plans, and goals, that it becomes overwhelming and can lead to a sense of hopelessness at being able to actually achieve any of this.
Those suffering from Bipolar Disorder are urged to remain under the care and under the close eye of a medical professional, whether that's a GP or a Psychiatrist. Ensuring that lines of communication are kept open, especially in the discussions around medication and whether medication is working or not.
The mechanisms of the link between Bipolar Disorder and creativity is far from being fully understood, however what is important is that the person's health is not compromised in the pursuit of creativity or productivity.
The idea that there are successful people out there who have suffered from bipolar disorder is brilliant in that it reduces the stigma attached the mental health in general, and allows those with bipolar disorder to realise that there are opportunities out there and that a diagnosis isn't the end of the world. However it is also important to remember that quite a few of these famous people, such as Sylvia Plath, may have lived much longer lives had their disorder been managed differently.
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