A full list of talented and creative people who suffer anxiety, depression and other mental health challenges, would, of course, be limitless; being creative, gifted and talented does not exempt any of us from those problems. Novelist Patricia Cornwell is one example of an artist who has experienced mental health issues. She comments: “I’ve had my own difficulties. My wiring’s not perfect and there are ways that you can stabilise that. I have certain things that run in my own ancestry. It’s not unusual for great artistic people to have bipolar disorder, for example…The diagnosis goes back and forth but I’m pretty sure that I am…I take a mood stabiliser.”
Other highly talented people with mental health challenges include: Psychiatrist Kay Redfield Jamison [see post: I fought the medication because I liked my creativity], writer and actor Carrie Fisher, [see Successful People Who’ve Struggled with Psychiatric Disorders], TV journalist Jane Pauley [see page: Bipolar Disorder].
But many health professionals may label attributes of giftedness negatively, as psychiatric problems or pathologies. That is not to say high ability people never experience mental illness, of course, but those of us who feel emotional intensities, existential depression and other experiences related to giftedness, may sometimes judge ourselves as “crazy” or disordered, even though we are not. Of course, it can be tricky to discriminate illness from attribute.
Kathleen Noble, PhD, is a Professor and Assistant Director of the Early Entrance Program, University of Washington in Seattle, where she also has a private practice as a psychologist, working with gifted women. In our interview, she said, “A number of my gifted clients are psychic or have psychic abilities. That’s only one place they might get pathologized. There are a number of qualities that gifted women possess that can easily get mislabeled and misdiagnosed… I have seen, particularly in adolescents, that gifted girls who are very high energy and high verbal are often punished by teachers for those qualities, and the qualities are then negatively represented, rather than positively acknowledged.”
The book Misdiagnosis And Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults by James T. Webb and others, affirms that “Many of our brightest, most creative, most independent thinking children and adults are being incorrectly diagnosed as having behavioral, emotional, or mental disorders. “They are then given medication and/or counseling to change their way of being so that they will be more acceptable within the school, the family, or the neighborhood, or so that they will be more content with themselves and their situation. The tragedy for these mistakenly diagnosed children and adults is that they receive needless stigmatizing labels that harm their sense of self and result in treatment that is both unnecessary and even harmful to them, their families, and society.” Related article: Mis-Diagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children: Gifted and LD, ADHD, OCD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder By James T. Webb, Ph.D. Dr. Webb comments, “It has been my experience that gifted and talented persons are more likely to experience a type of depression referred to as existential depression.” Read more quotes in post: Gifted, Sensitive, In Need Of Meaning: Existential Depression. He also addresses another aspect of high ability people that may lead to a sense of being “crazy” or even misdiagnosis: Overexcitabilities – see article Excitabilities and Gifted People – an intro by Susan Daniels.
In her article Woman interrupted: misdiagnosis and medication of sensitivity and giftedness, writer Cat Robson asks: “What makes creative and highly sensitive people accept, and even welcome, a diagnosis of bipolar disorder or other mental illness? Are psychiatrists equipped to recognize and support creativity, high sensitivity and giftedness? Who determines where creative intensity ends and mental illness begins? Do medications put our creativity and sensitivity at risk? I asked myself these questions as I began a journey back to a drug-free life after years on anti-depressants and other medications.” She adds, “People who are creative and gifted often don’t fit within society’s common definitions of ‘normal.’ And while some may embrace their uniqueness, others, like myself, may struggle for years trying to change themselves in order to fit in.”
Among other writers and mental health professionals who agree with this kind of perspective, Peter D. Kramer, author of Listening to Prozac, notes there is an ever-diminishing concept of ‘normal.’ Psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman comments:
“I do believe that If the mental processes associated with psychosis were evaporated entirely from this world, art would suck. But so would a lot of other things that require imagination.” In his book Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined, Kaufman writes about many topics related to creative people, and describes the painful and disruptive consequences of having been labeled as learning disabled when he was a child. His experience was the result of several ear infections that had impeded his hearing, resulting in a central auditory processing disorder that interfered with his understanding of speech. Read much more in article: Madness and creativity: do we need to be crazy?
It can be deeply valuable to acknowledge your attributes realistically, and explore the ways you are mentally healthy – or not. If you experience disruptive symptoms, it may mean you should get professional help, or more actively help yourself, to gain better emotional health so you can be more happy, productive and creative.
This article first appeared Psych Central, 28 January 2015.