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Raising awareness on mental health and how bipolar disorder affects the brain’s creativity

Many people associate creative genius with some kind of personal suffering. The ‘starving artist’, ‘tortured soul’ and ‘suffering for their art’ are all common phrases often used to describe “artists”. While these terms are true for the majority of people working in creative fields, it has become apparent that actual mental disorders and creativity do have an undefined relationship. A better understanding of how mental disorders and creativity are connected helps the increase of mental health awareness and dispels certain stereotypes. Researchers have studied specifically how bipolar disorder affects creativity. The individual experience of someone going through manic and depressive cycles may vary but the overarching characteristics certainly lend themselves to unique processes of conceptualizing, understanding, interpretation, and execution.

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The link between bipolar disorder and creativity

To understand how creativity can be enhanced for someone with a specific mental health disorder like bipolar disorder we must first understand the cycle. Bipolar disorder is a manic-depressive illness characterized by an unusual shift in mood, energy and activity levels that works in a cycle of extremes. Moods range from periods of extreme elation, decreased inhibition, impulsivity, and energy – manic episodes- to extreme periods of hopelessness, depression and low energy – depressive episodes.

 

Then there are less severe manic periods known as hypomanic episodes. These episodes are defined as “ an emotional state characterized by a distinct period of persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood, lasting throughout at least four consecutive days”, (American Psychiatric Association (2013).  It is often characterized by a period that does not necessarily hinder someone’s daily life but does include elevated confidence, fluency of thoughts, increased enthusiasm and speed of mental association and elevated mood.

 

Experiencing this change in mindset, for someone who is prone to exploring their creative side, opens the floodgates for their ideas to be explored and amplified. The sheer increase in volume in the manic or the hypomanic episode can be overwhelming, but from a creative aspect, it increases the likelihood of finding a completely unique perspective and idea to run with. The sense of excitement, freedom, and confidence that come with these episodes increase the chances that someone will explore their ideas with the full potential of their enthusiasm and passion. 

 

Now, this is not to say that depressive episodes lack creativity necessarily. While there is certainly a lack of energy and mental fatigue, the deep thinking depressive nature of these episodes may also lead to creative albeit often darker new perspectives.

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Creativity as an outlet for mental health

The creative experience for someone with mental illness is often a point of intense inspiration and creative euphoria. Aside from art, as a result, the creative experience has frequently been utilized as a tool for mental health benefits as well. On average humans have 60,000 thoughts per day, 95% of which are repetitive. For someone struggling with their mental health especially symptoms of lack of concentration, anxiety or depression engaging in a creative activity can produce a sense of calm. As your mind becomes engrossed in this unique activity it is easy to shift focus from troubling thoughts. Thinking of it as a form of meditation, creative activities can help to achieve a positive sense of focus, patience, and clarity. 

Then there are less severe manic periods known as hypomanic episodes. These episodes are defined as “ an emotional state characterized by a distinct period of persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood, lasting throughout at least four consecutive days”, (American Psychiatric Association (2013).  It is often characterized by a period that does not necessarily hinder someone’s daily life but does include elevated confidence, fluency of thoughts, increased enthusiasm and speed of mental association and elevated mood.

Experiencing this change in mindset, for someone who is prone to exploring their creative side, opens the floodgates for their ideas to be explored and amplified. The sheer increase in volume in the manic or the hypomanic episode can be overwhelming, but from a creative aspect, it increases the likelihood of finding a completely unique perspective and idea to run with. The sense of excitement, freedom, and confidence that come with these episodes increase the chances that someone will explore their ideas with the full potential of their enthusiasm and passion. 

Now, this is not to say that depressive episodes lack creativity necessarily. While there is certainly a lack of energy and mental fatigue, the deep thinking depressive nature of these episodes may also lead to creative albeit often darker new perspectives.

 

—  iTribe Social Inc.

Canadian Resources

Each province in Canada has its own comprehensive site where you can do online assessments to get more information about how you’re feeling. Ontario’s site is here, Alberta’s is here and B.C.’s is here. There are also sites for SaskatchewanManitobaYukonNorthwest TerritoriesQuebecNewfoundlandNew BrunswickPEINunavut and Nova Scotia.

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