Research suggests engaging in artistic activities may ease symptoms of depression and other mental health conditions.
In film, TV, literature, and even history, artists are often presented as tragic figures who either use creative expression to showcase their pain or use their pain to fuel their creativity.
But how accurate is this stereotype of the “tortured artist”?
Anecdotal evidence suggests that creative people are more likely to live with depression or that depression can deepen creative expression, but research paints a less concrete picture.
While some studies have shown connections between creativity and depression, there’s no scientific proof that one can lead to or cause the other.
In fact, creative activities have been found to positively impact mental health and mood disorders. Engaging in different art forms — like painting, dancing, or writing — can provide an outlet to process and ease the symptoms of depression and other mental health conditions.
There is no right or wrong in art, and you don’t need to consider yourself an artist to be creative. Simply approaching creative activities with an open mind and willingness to explore can help you start reaping the health benefits creativity has to offer.
If you’re living with depression, creative activities can provide an outlet for exploring and understanding your emotions. Creativity can also potentially give your mood a positive boost and improve your self-esteem.
Additionally, creative pursuits offer a way to focus and calm your mind, much like meditation, so you can process your experiences safely and enjoyably. These traits can help reduce or even eliminate signs and symptoms of depression.
If you’re wondering whether artists are more prone to mood disorders, you’re not alone. Several studies have looked into this, and the results are mixed.
When looking at similarities between hypomanic episodes and intense creative activity, researchers of a recent review noticed similar symptoms, such as deep concentration, a lack of sense of time, and the ability to go long stretches without food or sleep. However, no evidence supports any deeper connection between hypomanic episodes and creative activity.
This same review explored the link between creativity and mood disorders and examined whether one can cause another. Researchers found that while artists are sometimes more susceptible to being diagnosed with a mood disorder, these diagnoses do not make them more creative.
Of the conditions studied, bipolar disorder was most closely linked to creativity.
Another study examined data on 1.2 million Swedish citizens over a 40-year period and found that people in creative careers were more likely to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder than those in other professions. However, this didn’t apply to other mood disorders.
This could be due to the high-stress, intense, competitive nature of creative careers, but the study didn’t look into whether this was a contributing factor. The study also found that a large portion of arts workers had immediate relatives with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism, and other mental health conditions.
Researchers have also looked at how schizotypal traits may tie to creativity, and they’ve found some overlap in the brain processes in both. While these similarities suggest that certain parts of the brain are used in both cases, this does not mean that schizotypy can cause — or be caused by — creative expression.
Art can also improve mental health by:
- boosting self-esteem
- elevating mood
- creating feelings of accomplishment
- enhancing memory
- relieving stress
- aiding in self-discovery
- calming and focusing the mind
One study, in particular, examined writing as a way to boost physical and psychological well-being by helping patients process their stress or traumas. But other art forms — like drawing, singing, or movement — can be equally effective.
While many studies have explored the connection between creativity and depression, there isn’t concrete evidence available to support that depression can boost creativity or that creative expression can lead to depression.
In many cases, artistic activities have actually been found to relieve the symptoms of depression and other mental health conditions by helping to calm the mind, increase joy, and provide a sense of achievement.
If you or someone you love is living with depression, consider reaching out to a healthcare or mental health professional for help and support. There are many resources or treatments available for depression, including:
- cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- support groups
- alternative treatments, such as art therapy