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Mental Illness and Creativity: The Media’s Perspective

Mood swings, hyperactivity, fatigue, stress, depression. These are words most people might use to describe bipolar disorder. But a new study and media attention have added ‘creative,’ ‘gifted,’ and ‘genius’ into the mix. Artists of today and yesterday including Dusty Springfield, Jackson Pollock, Edward Elgar, and Britney Spears all had (or currently have) bipolar disorder, and all are no doubt exemplars of artistic talent. But is it right to glamorize mental illness?

The study in question reports that people at risk of developing schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are 25 percent more likely to be creative. However, the link between those risk factors and ‘creativity’ is shaky at best.

Moreover, media attention has turned mental illness into a sort of “rite of passage” into the cool club. Countless movies depict iconic musicians, composers, and painters outperforming ‘normal’ people in their field, fueled by co-occurring illness-driven talent and perhaps even recreational drug use. However, these films and media exposés fail to depict the reality of mental illness – crushing anxiety, tremors, loneliness, and other symptoms that make every day a true challenge.

That’s not to dismiss studies linking mental illness with creative prowess. Genetic factors can indeed activate certain regions of the brain that would otherwise be more or less dormant. Medicine will continue to progress and shed more light on the mechanisms behind these disorders. The danger begins when science turns into sensation. A lead guitarist with bipolar disorder is seen as a musical genius, strumming out tunes with the ease of tying shoelaces. But what about the woman with extreme anxiety that is terrified to step out her front door and live her life independently? Or the schizophrenic father hoping his hallucinations won’t flare up during his daughter’s college graduation ceremony?

Those with mental illness who achieve success should be praised for their passion, diligence, and commitment, not for having a “special ability.” This type of thinking discounts the bravery of millions of people with mental illness who struggle just to fall asleep each night or make it to the store and back without enduring extreme anxiety or panic. It also creates an inaccurate notion that bouts of illness-driven genius always result in success. Any artist with depression or social anxiety disorder will tell you that they value the moments of calm and clarity more than anything else.

People with mental illness face different challenges than the average person. They need more love, understanding and support. They may take medications to manage their symptoms. However, in the end, they’re just like everyone else – people with aspirations, hopes and dreams. If your loved one struggles with mental illness, help is available. Qualified psychiatric professionals can administer the necessary care and prescribe medications to help your loved one manage their symptoms.

Pasadena Villa Psychiatric Residential Treatment Centers creates a comforting and therapeutic environment for those suffering from mental illness. We believe in treating all residents with compassion, and our programs are designed in ways that preserve and protect their dignity. We do common activities that many families do. Our staff and residents learn and model appropriate social, communication and life skills.

Our mental health professionals work directly with residents. They observe them in actual social situations and incorporate these observations directly into the resident’s ongoing treatment plan.  This individual, real life personalized attention makes the Pasadena Villa treatment experience more appropriate and beneficial for each of our residents, especially when compared to any other available adult residential treatment mental health services.

As one of the very first programs in the country to base its treatment upon Social Integration, our mental health facilities offer help through a unique mix of individualized therapy and group residential programs with a clear focus towards achieving more independent living.

The Villa Orlando and Pasadena Villa’s Smoky Mountain Lodge are adult intensive psychiatric residential treatment centers for clients with serious mental illnesses. Our outpatient center is located in Raleigh, North Carolina. We also provide other individualized therapy programs, step-down residential programs, and less intensive mental health services, such as Community Residential Homes, Supportive Housing, Day Treatment Programs and Life Skills training. If you or someone you know may need counseling on mental health services, please fill out our contact form or call us at 877-845-5235 for more information.

If you think that you or a loved one may be struggling with a mental health disorder, Pasadena Villa can help. We are here to answer questions and connect to care. Pasadena Villa currently offers treatment at two residential locations in both Orlando, Florida and Knoxville, Tennessee, and outpatient services in Cary, North Carolina and Charlotte, North Carolina. To learn more about our program, call us at
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