Creativity & Mental Illness

Pt 3: Creative & Mental Illness - There have been plenty of artists who exhibited signs of mental illness over the years. Vincent Van Gogh, Sylvia Plath, Janis Joplin. But despite the archetype of the mad artist, the connection between creativity and mental health is very much up for debate.


Creativity & Mental Illness - Arnold Ludwig

We started this segment with a clip of Nicole Kidman, playing writer Virginia Woolf in the movie, The Hours. And the letter she is reading is real. It's the last one Virginia Woolf wrote to her husband before she committed suicide. Today, psychiatrists say Woolf likely suffered from bipolar disorder. And she is just one in a long line of famous artists, musicians and writers who struggled -- or are believed to have struggled -- with mental illness. Painter Edvard Munch ... composer Robert Schumann ... poet Sylvia Plath. The list goes on.

But whether mental illness and creativity actually are connected is the subject of some debate. Arnold Ludwig is a professor emeritus of psychiatry at Brown University. He spent 10 years examining the lives more than one-thousand great minds of the past, from prominent artists and writers to Einstein and Freud.

He combed through their biographies for detailed information to measure their levels of creativity and mental health over a lifetime which he argues is the most reliable way to study the connection. And he published his findings in The Price of Greatness: Resolving the Creativity and Madness Controversy. Arnold Ludwig was in Providence, Rhode Island.

Creativity & Mental Illness - Albert Rothenberg

Several other prominent researchers have come to the same conclusion -- that there is some sort of link between creativity and mental illness. But Albert Rothenberg says that many of their studies are flawed. He is a professor of psychiatry at Harvard University and has been studying the creative process his entire career. And he's the author of Creativity and Madness: New Findings and Old Stereotypes. Albert Rothenberg was in Canaan, New York.

Creativity & Mental Illness - Panel

We were joined by three very creative people, all of whom have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Robert Munsch is a bestselling Canadian children's author. He was in Toronto. Mike MacDonald is a popular Canadian stand-up comedian. He was in Pasadena, California. And Mariette Hartley is an Emmy Award-winning actress. She was in Tarzana, California. All three of them have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

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* Photo by Nathan Denette/Canadian Press