For generations, artists, musicians, poets and writers have described personal episodes of mania and depression, the hallmarks of bipolar disorder. So what do talented people in these professions have in common? Inspiration — or idea generation that results in creative work involving expressiveness, imagination and originality. A new study has linked this force to bipolar disorder vulnerability.
The Evolution of Bipolar Disorder Supports Modern Findings
The concept of bipolar disorder dates back to the pre-Grecian era. According to ancient myths, the god Dionysus had mood swings at opposite ends of the spectrum. His episodes of intense suffering and extreme ecstasy resembled death and rebirth. Plato and Socrates viewed madness as a special gift that was the noblest of all the arts.
Over the centuries, art and literary scholars have linked madness with creative genius. Inspiration requires drifting into an irrational state of mind while functioning in reality. Bipolar disorder and creativity share similar cognitive symptoms including rapid thoughts, increased ideas, more elaborate thinking and problem-solving. The manic state tends to boost achievements, but artistic expression can occur during a visionary and ecstatic period or a painful and melancholic stage.
Study Links Inspiration to Increased Bipolar Risk
Lancaster University researchers recruited 835 undergraduate students from Yale University in the U.S. and Lancaster University in the U.K. for a recent study. Participants completed an online questionnaire that assessed their bipolar risks according to the Hypomanic Personality Scale (HPS). This popular and well-validated 48-item measure captures episodic shifts in emotion, behavior and energy. The study team developed a new External and Internal Sources of Inspiration (EISI) measure with a second questionnaire that explored beliefs about inspiration. It delved into its sources to discover if subjects thought their inspiration comes from within themselves, others or a broader environment.
By correlating both questionnaires, researchers discovered that inspiration coming from within coupled with a strong drive to succeed increased study subjects’ risks of developing bipolar disorder. These people reported stronger experiences of inspiration compared to those at lower risk. Students with high bipolar risk scores also rated their inspiration levels higher as well as the type they judged to come from themselves.
According to Professor Steven Jones, co-director of Lancaster University’s Spectrum Centre, bipolar patients relish the creativity their disorder produces. Because of this bonus, they may be reluctant to undergo treatments and therapies that compromise their inspirational and creative abilities.
Researchers Discover Creativity Is Higher in Bipolar Patients
Multiple studies indicate an association between bipolar disorder and high levels of creativity. In a new study, researchers compared highly and normally creative bipolar patients to healthy controls with normal or high creativity. Their findings associated high creativity with altered functional connectivity of two brain regions: the medial prefrontal cortex and the striatum.
At the 2014 meeting of the International Society for Bipolar Disorders, the researchers reported finding greater creativity in bipolar subjects. They hope to contribute to new treatment solutions that can help bipolar patients reduce their emotional disturbance without their losing positive cognitive functions like creativity.
Bipolar Provides a Route for Emotions to Energize Creativity
Watch Dr. Terence Ketter, the Stanford University Bipolar Disorder Clinic’s founder and chief, discuss “Feeling, Thinking and Creativity in Bipolar Disorder.” He addresses evidence that people with mood disorders have increased creativity, and highly creative people have an increased incidence of mood disorders. Ketter proposes that bipolar disorder may cause creativity, or a particular temperament common to bipolar patients may trigger creative expression. Based on his studies, he contends that the ability to experience emotions provides the energy that encourages people to undertake creative pursuits. Thus, bipolar disorder is the channel for that emotion.
How to Cope With Bipolar Symptoms
Bipolar is a lifelong condition that occurs at birth but may lay dormant for years. In addition to being a mood disorder, it affects your mental and emotional states as well as your behavior. Previously known as manic depression, bipolar disorder causes radical emotional extremes. Most people alternate between manic, restless, euphoric highs and depressive, listless lows. While some patients’ manic and depressive phases cycle rapidly several times a day, most people have slower mood shifts with phases persisting a few months or less.
Delaying treatment for bipolar disorder symptoms can have serious consequences. You risk suffering from more severe hypomania or mania and major depression episodes that can last anywhere from a few days to a few years. Untreated bipolar disorder can compromise your relationships, career, financial status and quality of life. Death rates from heart disease, stroke and cancer associated with untreated bipolar symptoms are high.
Even though it’s a mood disorder, bipolar also changes your judgment, thinking, decisions and behaviors in potentially destructive ways that can worsen your health. You may engage in risky behaviors such as excessive drinking and drug abuse. Increased suicidal thoughts may lead you to harm yourself. You may take physical risks that could hurt other people or yourself.
Unfortunately, bipolar disorder won’t go away on its own. But treatment can help you manage your symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe an anti-psychotic medication like Ziprasidone, which changes the way your brain chemicals work to control your manic phases. Like diabetes, hypertension and many other chronic health conditions, your must follow your bipolar treatment plan consistently and continuously. In addition to stabilizing your mood swings, it also will enhance your quality of life.