“I only know that summer sang in me a little while, that in me sings no more.”
That excerpt from one of her sonnets expresses how much poet Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) probably knew of depression.
Marie Osmond has described her experiences suffering from postpartum depression in her book Behind the Smile: “I’m collapsed in a pile of shoes on my closet floor. I have no memory of what it feels like to be happy. I sit with my knees pulled up to my chest. It’s not that I want to be still. I am numb.”
That kind of numbness, that sense of endless hopelessness and erosion of spiritual vitality are some of the reasons depression can have such a devastating impact on creative inspiration and expression.
There are reports that as many as a quarter of American women have a history of depression. According to an article on the Allhealth.com website, “The risk of depression among teen girls is high, and this risk lasts into early adulthood.” A study of young women living in Los Angeles found that almost half had at least one episode of major depression within five years after high school graduation.
Psychiatrist Kay Redfield Jamison, herself a person with bipolar disorder or manic depression, notes in her book Touched with Fire that the majority of people suffering from mood disorder “do not possess extraordinary imagination, and most accomplished artists do not suffer from recurring mood swings.”
She writes, “To assume, then, that such diseases usually promote artistic talent wrongly reinforces simplistic notions of the ‘mad genius.’ But, it seems that these diseases can sometimes enhance or otherwise contribute to creativity in some people. Biographical studies of earlier generations of artists and writers also show consistently high rates of suicide, depression and manic-depression.”
According to the website Famous (Living) People Who Have Experienced Depression, women in the arts who have declared publicly they have had some form of the mood disorder include Sheryl Crow; Ellen DeGeneres; Patty Duke; Connie Francis; Mariette Hartley; Margot Kidder; Kristy McNichol; Kate Millett; Sinead O’Connor; Marie Osmond; Dolly Parton; Bonnie Raitt; Jeannie C. Riley; Roseanne and Lili Taylor.