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Unlocking the Link Between Creativity and Depression

Edgar Allan Poe, Honore de Balzac, Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Audrey Hepburn, and even Jim Carrey all had something in common. Aside from being renowned artists, they were also afflicted with depression. It has been a great mystery how these men and women, praised for their genius in film, on the canvass, or in using their pen, could be victims of terrible melancholy.

As defined, creativity is the ability to see something in a new way; or the capacity to design new inventions, solve problems, produce works of art, or develop a new and original idea. Depression, on the other hand, is a deep feeling of being sad and despondent. It is usually accompanied by feelings of guilt, helplessness, and hopelessness. In extreme cases of depression, thoughts of death even enter the mind of the gravely melancholic artist.

Studies have established that there is a very close relationship between creativity and depression. Many artists are prone to depression due to the highly emotional aspect of their craft. The angst and solitude that usually surrounds the creative process also makes them vulnerable to bouts of sadness. The strong emotions that compel artists to create are the same forces that lead them to pits of depression.

No wonder, the famous director David Cronenberg once said that, Everybody’s a mad scientist, and life is their lab. We’re all trying to find a way to live, to solve problems, to fend-off madness, and chaos.

Despite their very positive public persona or larger-than-life image, many artists from different fields have struggled with the act of unleashing their creativity while battling depression

Amy Tan, the author of the popular book Joy Luck Club, continues to take prescription medication for her own bouts with depression — perhaps, living in real life the sad stories of the characters she created in her books.

Vincent Van Gogh, the 18th century expressionist, was actually hailed as a mad genius of the canvass for his brilliant brush strokes and masterpieces. His colorful works of art somehow represented the intensity of his own psychological canvass. One time, he encountered difficulty in illustrating his own ears while doing a self-portrait. In a bout of depression and rage, he cut-off his own ear so that he would no longer need to paint them on the canvass. He eventually succumbed to his depression and mental illness. Van Gogh committed suicide, leaving behind more than 900 artworks and thousands of sketches.

Like Van Gogh, many people suffer from depression. The daily stress and challenges of life push many people to the brink of hopelessness and insanity. The difficulty lies in discerning the difference between normal levels of depression and those cases that can be considered as psychological disorders. Artists and non-artists alike can be afflicted by manic depression, bipolar disorder, and other psychosis.

These mental problems, however, need not ruin a person’s artistic talents or a regular person’s capacity to lead a normal life. Treatment for depression is available. These treatments do vary from one individual to another but there are some common methods of addressing psychological problems.

Medication and psychotherapy are two of the most commonly used means to treat depression and anxiety. Extreme cases might involve bringing a person to a medical facility for a 24-hour suicide watch. Another treatment program is called partial hospitalization, a method where a patient is allowed to sleep at home but spends about five to seven days a week in a psychiatric hospital setting. This type of treatment usually involves individual counseling, group therapy, and psycho-pharmacology.

Depression may help some artists to become more creative and emotionally involved. However, for thousands of other people who suffer from depression, the most important masterpiece involves mastery over one’s emotions.

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