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The other side of mental conditions: Can they have a positive side?

you think that "mental disorders" (such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc..), can help the creative plane or having these conditions its positives?. stop being bad eyesight and silent exclusion of these people by the society that believes "normal", "healthy mind" and that the obsession with freedom from disease when there is no cure yet, we should spend all that engia to learn to live with it, to be accepted and could do with it.

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    Jul 30 2013: Hi Karla. I think the propensity of many mental illnesses represent a litmus test for the health of society. Mental health problems are now so common as to indicate that 'normality' has shifted away from what society represents, to what the human condition has now become.

    In other words, depression for example, is a normal reaction to an external stressor of some kind - such as bereavement, marriage break-up, moving house, etc. Depression has now become a prolonged (sometimes lifelong) condition, which is a sign that stressors remain present and persistent. Because it is seen by the medical profession as a chronic condition, it gets pathologised into an illness, or 'medicalised'.

    This has the effect of masking the positive aspects of mental illness, which include, among many others:

    1 - The personal need in many, for introspection (necessary for regrouping, reassessing, and reassembling one's personal life or coming to terms with a chaotic life event). Introspection, given time without stigma, can be an incredibly creative state to be in. Introspection is beloved of creative people, which is possibly why many artists, musicians, performers, suffer with depression.

    2. - The outward signs of mental distress are a call for help - a signal to others in a close-knit society of that person's need for attention.

    In the first example, clearly there is no time to introspect. Taking time out is seen as lazy or a sign of inadequacy in coping with pressure. In the second, society is clearly no longer close-knit. It is fragmented, with no immediately available support for people who are suffering. Instead we have to enlist counsellors and psychotherapists as substitutes for close family and friends.

    It seems that our brains may have adapted well to ancient society, but are not well adapted to the stresses of modern life.

    "Rather than being a defect, [Depression] could be some kind of defence". (Keedwell P, "How Sadness Survived - The Evolutionary Basis of Depression")
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    Aug 1 2013: Yes the society does tend to put huge restrictions on mentally ill people. Instead of understanding them, most people avoid having contact with them because they are "different". They are "different" to what the society tells is normal. Keep in mind that it's the society's definition of normal, which changes from country to country.

    In India there's no logic in many things to the Western mind, yet the Indian mind accepts that as normal. I know great people who have mental conditions. Many of them are loving and very creative. Just because the society puts a label on anyone that's different from the norm, doesn't mean such people are inferior.
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    Jul 31 2013:

    "The mere fact that devastating mental disorders might be able to positively affect an artistic career and to create treasured works of art makes the status of the disorders more uncertain."
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    Jul 31 2013: My experience working with adults who struggle with cognitive disorders is the longing to "fit in" , to be recognized for who they are. The best way I can describe it is there is a person on the inside that most do not see nor take the time to recognize. Their thought pattern maybe compromised, their speech impaired, their moods often erratic, their behavior not always socially appropriate, etc. Sadly, most of this population live with no support. there is a critical lack of quality health care professionals, programs, group housing that afford them the opportunity of learning skills that help them live a life belonging, the chance of contribution, participation, use of their talents. The list goes on. Modern medicine has helped softening some of the challenges these human beings face however, this is but a tip of the iceberg. A pill is not the silver bullet most wish for.

    In my 11 years in this field I have found no correlation between the highly creative mind and mental health problems.

    one last comment; from where I sit viewing this world the greatest" mental health challenge" we are dealing with is stress and fear. Allan, I concur with you wonderfully written thoughts.
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      Jul 31 2013: "Their thought pattern maybe compromised, their speech impaired, their moods often erratic, their behavior not always socially appropriate, etc."

      Could this not be an opinion? I feel to believe I could see a little bit of this in everyone around me. However, I still accept that about them and look on the better half of each of them.

      I believe the biggest culprit is the lack of knowing how to get to one's goals in life today. It is as if you have to figure this out as you go along with your destiny in the fate of others hands. Get over the hurtle of figuring out what the goals are is one thing. Then college is laid out with achievement of a short term goal right there (study, learn, get through this classes and rewarded). Then what if the first plan after does not work? There are no steps to follow as in college. Everything is wide open and subject to change at any time (lay offs, company folds, more experienced worker takes your job, over qualified for that one, 10 years of experience in field for that one...). Like being in a monster tuck stuck in the mud and all the grass around you turns into a different color. Need a painting? LOL I can give you one :) Crap, I shouldn't have smiled, now I'm bi polar! :)
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        Jul 31 2013: Those aren't opinions, Vincent, those are observations accrued from over a decade of first-hand experience. You may have seen "a little bit of this in everyone around me," but mary ellen johnson is not referring to "a little bit of this" in the individuals she is referring to.
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          Jul 31 2013: thank you Daniel for the clarification. These individuals only wish it was just "a little bit" and I wish the same for them.
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      Jul 31 2013: You're assertion that there is no link (in your experience) made me re-consider my earlier opinion and do a little internet research, which led me to realize that there is no conclusive evidence for or against the link between creativity and mental illness, that there are convincing studies for and against the existence of such a link, and the whole connection is constantly being re-evaluated in light of new research.

      But the question is not whether there is a link between creativity and mental illness. The topic question is if there is are any positive sides to some mental conditions. In that case, the answer is yes. And that answer does not make the mistake of assuming that the link is a casual one. It is saying neither that creativity leads to mental illness or mental illness to creativity.

      A very compelling, well-written, and sufficiently short article on this can be found at:
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        Aug 8 2013: Daniel thanks for sharing this article.

        I'm in agreement - creativity does not lead to mental illness nor does mental illness in and of itself lead to the type of creativity valued by society. An innate combination of mental illness and creativity/artistic ability undoubtedly has the potential to unleash brilliance in those who are fortunate enough to channel "mad" energy.
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          Aug 8 2013: Thank you for reading the article. Pointless, but relative fact: my cat is named Odin after a character in Norse mythology who was god of both poetry and madness. Man has long, long been aware of and exploring the relationship between creativity and mental illness.
  • Aug 7 2013: Dear Luna,

    Thank you for your valuable respons. Of course I do not want to downplay anything related to the suffering people like yu have to go through when they have to carry one or mental illnesses.The picture in your link expresses a bitter reality.What I try to express is finding ways for a better understanding and more open minded of a mental illness and the the expriences patient can have.In my professional life I have met too many indivduals with a mental illness who were bad treated or stopped the treatment and tried to survive because nobody in the health care system listened to their stories or asked them what they needed. Its not a solution but with the help of art and its creative potentials new insights can be created to open the debate about the system and the approach. Artists like Jennifer Cannary are creating interesting and valuable experiments by involving their audience.

    Take care with everything.

    Ferdinand Bardamu
  • Aug 1 2013: Bipolar disease has been known to be the "CEO's disease". A lot of great, influential CEOs, like Steve Jobs, were/are bipolar and look at how much they've accomplished.
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    Jul 30 2013: Apparently by the word "positive" you mean creative. The shrinks have come-up with a clinical name for every human behavior. If you dislike anything you are "whateveraphobic". If you cheat on your spouse you are an addict who needs ongoing sessions with a shrink to treat the deep-seated, highly-contagious, syndrome which has infected you and is not your fault! My point is to caution against using prevailing psychiatry and psychology models as a valid baseline for human normalcy. Are depressed, bipolar, or schizophrenic people more creative that folks who do not fall into those classifications? NO!
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      Jul 31 2013: "It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society." --Krishnamurti

      I agree, "NO!" but if one were to rephrase the question, "If a person is more creative, are they more likely to be depressed, bipolar, or schizophrenic, as well?", the then answer becomes "YES!"

      I feel I'm making a subtle but significant distinction and I hope you see it. I realize you eschew the 'prevailing psychiatry and psychology models,' but there is a well-documented and well-studied correlation between being more creative and being more susceptible to these mental illnesses, just as there is a correlation between mental health and addictions. It doesn't mean that these groups are more creative than 'folks who do not fall into those classifications?' because its not implying that a majority of creative people will fall into those classifications, only that a higher percentage, small but significant, of all creative people will fall into these mental illnesses when compared with relatively uncreative people.
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        Jul 31 2013: Does an increased liklihood of chronic emotional distress accompany creativity? Hmmm. I think the answer lies in the comparison of two statistics: 1) Percent of non-creative people who are "abnormal". 2) Percent of creative people who are "abnormal". If (2) is significantly higher than (1) it would support, but not prove, the assertion that creativity CAUSES "abnormality". Let's try a syllogism: Creative people are more likely than non-creative people to be psychologically abnormal. Darlene is creative. Darlene is more likely to be psychologically abnormal than she would be if she were not creative. Doesn't sound right to me! The real problem here is the implication that non-creative people are psychologically normal.
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    Aug 8 2013: We seem to be too obsessed with perfection. The problem is the natural world strives on imperfection. The differences from those of long ago made us what we are today. Mental condition are the favoring of one side of the brain over the other. That might create someone who needs help in surviving within our society or it could create an Einstein.
  • Aug 5 2013: It is a very interesting and important question you put forward.The mental conditions and mental dissorders you mention are associated with rock solid negative and disturbing images of people who are lost, in danger and can become a danger. A system approved by society treats them with medicine and exclusion to keep them and us safe.The general approach is that they are patients with a major problem. This is socially and culturaly accepted by the majority. Treatment is necessary but the state of their minds expresses also a reality we still not understand.With the help of art we could try to visualize it,create valuable personal stories and learn about what is the positive potential of these`different`states of minds.That can help a more personalized treatment. And we also could learn through their eyes how they see us and our behavior
  • Aug 4 2013: Hi Dear karla Tejeda:)of course we can have a positive side.But the quesiton is how?why we have mental disorder?why we feel happy?Can anyone just can be full of being happy?Can anyone so unlucky,never being happy?why we feel pleasure with happiness but unpleasure with sadness? who educated us so?or we are born so?
  • Aug 4 2013: Is there in fact, another side to mental conditions? Braced up sturdily between matching quotation marks, right there in the opening question, stands the term "mental disorders". This would presume that there is an exceptable, standard, mental order that is incumbent upon us all. Either we are like this and therefore within the good graces of society or not and the consequences be they as they may.

    I can't really argue the ups or downs of one state or another without first giving pause to the fact that we are. Yes, We are, period. Now, once we can all agree to that then perhaps the differences, advantages and disadvantages to lifes challenges can be looked at. As I grew up with eyeglasses as part of my world and feeling very different because of it, I wondered, perhaps, if every one needed them then, in fact, we could all do without them.

    Can we really just relate to people, whether twenty or two hundred thousand, as a negligable percentage to be disregarded or disowned of humanity, just because of a difference of magnitude?
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    Aug 4 2013: In "Too Bright to Hear too Loud to See" Juliann Garey tells the story of a bipolar executive who "shares his mind space." "Where does the brain start and the mind begin? Which part of my movie is merely mechanical, chemical? And how do fantasy, fear, desire, joy, loss emerge to become the story? If there is an answer, it's all in the editing."

    People with BP who are able to channel and leverage heightened awareness and unleashed creativity of manic phases can certainly benefit, as evidenced by accomplished artists, writers, actors, musicians, professionals. Having the ability to mitigate the depression that follows every euphoric manic stage, maybe related to why some can lead "normal" lives whereas others are devastated. "It's all in the editing" unfortunately the ability to do just that is a battle often lost.
  • Aug 3 2013: "Normal' is something that cannot be defined. It does not take a higher intellectual power to be better!

    In medicine, and in science, what you call a 'mental disoder' is still a very unexplored field. We try to define it as something that 'hampers daily life' but that definition is left wide for such a reason. how do you decide what a normal daily life is? something normal to you may seem very abnormal to me and vice versa. Its the same with mental disorders. a normal person lacking in some fields of life can be very good at other things. its the same with handicap. you may see a lot of negative things but, (read carefully and ruminate) at the same time since their brains work in a much different way than a 'normal' person's, they are free from all the biases and stigmas associated it and thus can think in ways that we cannot ever achieve. can this be a good trait? of course!!

    I leave you with a quote from a roommate while we were studying psychiatric disorders : man, I wish i had mania.

    is that a wrong statement? its subjective. but after studying mania for a good amount of time, I'd say :

    sometimes, I wish i had mania too.
  • Aug 3 2013: yes i think they are creative and have a positive side. many times i felt depressed and sad .. it took some time to cry or think about all bad things around me .. bad sitiuations bla bla .. but at a point i start to think how to refresh my mind or how to find solutions for myself to recover my sadness.. and to recover my case it requires creativity .. so i think ppl with depression have a posistive side.. bipolar disorders they already have times where the curve of hapinness is very high and same for the sadness ..and i think they are creative too to find solutions to help themselves and same for ppl with schizo. this is my opinion ..and i think we should help them to find their way to be cured because they knew well what they want ! they just want to be happy and relaxed from their war with themselves from these diseases.
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    Aug 3 2013: I don't believe the mentally ill are any more creative than the rest of us.

    If you check the DSM manual, you'll notice that just about every human behavior can be classified as a mental illness with one stipulation: that it interferes with your ability to carry on with the tasks of daily living or your ability to form relationships.

    So, creative types are normal, unless they also have some other thing that interferes with ability to function. I'd call that a negative.

    We could look at creativity in another way: having thoughts and experiences that are radically different than 'normal'. In that case, then the mentally afflicted are creative. They are usually the ones who have more extreme experiences or perspectives of the world. But then we do have to look at both ends of the spectrum. the sad vs. happy. Consistently very happy people are also outside the spectrum of 'normal'. but their functioning is not affected, therefore not mentally ill.

    So, perhaps it is a matter of subsets. all mentally ill are creative, but they are only a subset of all creatives.

    In that case, I'd still call mental illness a negative.
  • Aug 3 2013: The ones who you think are the crazy ones in the eyes of men, are the sane ones in the eyes of God. Sure there are people who have evil minds, but crazy people are actually the normal ones. I can't tell you more.
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    Aug 2 2013: I have no doubt about the difficulties of the disables, but it's the incident of believe in something is disable when it's not that worry me. Don't you think so? the notion of ADHD (a mental disorder that is very popular among young people nowadays) as an example.
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    Jul 31 2013: Creativeness or expression trough these art forms is one way of dealing with sadness in a positive way. I don't like to use the words depression/bipolar because it strikes this label of abnormal illness without any reason subjected to medication treatment (yuck). It's the easiest way for the rat to get to the cheese from a doctors point of view in my humble opinion.

    Through my experience it is much easier to create when I am/was sad. It was not an everyday part of life but in chunks of my life (years of time) that creating just comes natural and many times I have no clue what I am creating. It just doesn't make any sense at first until bits and pieces are broken down after the main intention has been created, then it begins to make sense what I am creating. In other times, I couldn't care less about what I had created, this is when I put it up for sale and sold it.

    Maybe it's a form of meditation for myself and others. I don't meditate, this is what I do instead. Not having a job or been unemployed for so long really adds to the creativeness big time. It is not the reason I am unemployed. I brutally pulled myself apart mentally on this to the point of nearly becoming obsessed looking for the mistake I made for reason I was not getting hired. They could tell me to go eat crap at an interview and I still laugh or smile at them. Eventually, I came to the conclusion there is plenty of competition these days. Hell, I come across ads wanting 2 years experience of making pizza! Why would they want someone that is more than likely not going to stick around for a while and has a degree? All kinds of reason you NEVER get to find out. Your friend, sadness is not the reason, it's more than likely a big part of the symptom. I've been dealing with this off and on for over 5 years now. Individuals use to move up in working status now the companies move up in experience status it seems. Take care of each other out there. It's one hell of a storm, it has been for some time.
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    Jul 31 2013: The walls of my place are covered by bookshelves or paintings. I am surrounded with a profundity of works that exemplify what creative talent can achieve when it is apprenticed to mental illness for a master.
  • Jul 30 2013: There are sane and non-adicted poets But not many Maybe that's true to for artists and musicians, too
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    Jul 29 2013: Professor Kay Jamison's book Touched with Fire is about the connection between mood disorders and creativity. Many great writers and artists have been bipolar. John Forbes Nash was famously schizophrenic, though his create creative achievements came before onset.

    Because of the well established connection between mood disorders and creativity, I believe many artists are not hesitant to divulge that they suffer from these conditions.

    What do you mean by "silent exclusion" of these people?
    • Jul 29 2013: I meant who are excluded by society unconsciously, by his suffering and because they are different.
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        Jul 29 2013: What I wonder is whether there, in fact, remains a stigma today about bipolar illness. Someone with bipolar or major depressive illness may withdraw during the low times, but does that suggest they are being excluded by others?

        We are so accustomed now to people's having a wide range of different physical conditions- some probe to headaches, some to back trouble, some to anxiety disorders, some to asthma, some to allergies or multiple chemical sensitivities, some to the physical limitations of advanced age... that we are accustomed to communities with all manner of physical difference. Aren't we?
        • Jul 29 2013: I understand your point, and it is true that we are used by communities of all kinds of physical difference. but I'm not sure that is broken the whole stigma about certain conditions. example of this is what I have a friend with bipolar disorder and she discovered four years ago (it goes well with your treatment). since that time people trafficking sentence and usually try away. and that bothers she so much. has struggled to find work.
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        Jul 29 2013: This could be very different depending on where you live. You are right that places of work aim to hire people they can expect to be there and productive. So if her references say that she is absent for weeks at a time several times a year, employers are going to want to avoid that.

        But most people with bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and other really common challenges figure out work-arounds so they accumulate records of employment that show that they can be counted on to fulfill the requirements of the job at hand. It is that track record that matters and then how people really perform on the job.