Arts Health Relations

The Line Between Creativity and What’s Diagnosed as “Mental Illness” is More Blurry than You Think.

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The science behind the “tortured genius” myth and what it reveals about how the creative mind actually works.

Nancy C. Andreasen, PhD, author of *The Creating Brain* wondered about the social forces at work in the nature-nurture osmosis of genius, about how many people of natural genius were born throughout history whose genius was never manifested, suppressed by lack of nurture.

In *The Creating Brain: The Neuroscience of Genius* , Andreasen crystallizes more than three decades of her work at the intersection of neuroscience, psychology, and cultural history. She seeks to put an end to wasting human gifts due to mental illness.

“Does mental illness facilitate unique abilities, whether it be to play a concerto or to perceive a novel mathematical relationship? Or did mental illness impair their creativity after its initial meteoric burst in their twenties? Or is the relationship more complex than a simple one of cause and effect, in either direction?” writes Andreasen.

Creative people, Andreasen notes, can be more easily overwhelmed by stimuli and become distracted. Some of the writers in her study, upon realizing they had a tendency to be too sociable, employed various strategies for keeping themselves isolated from human contact for sizable stretches of time in order to create. And yet for all its capacity to overwhelm, the creative mind remains above all a spectacular blessing.


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“The Line Between Creativity and What’s Diagnosed as “Mental Illness” is More Blurry than You Think.”