Defining Lines: Mental Health and Mental Creativity

There is a fine line between the affliction of a mental or emotional issue that hinders and one that is used to help; while many people who are affected by psychological conditions find themselves unhappy and unable to achieve their desired quality of life, others seem to manifest similar concerns in ways that dazzle us with creativity. The links between genius and pathology are often made, with many famous minds and creative talents pointing to their experiences with a range of issues for which people frequently seek therapy. In a recent issue of The Independent, a prominent UK news publication, writer John Walsh expands upon the history of these links and goes on to seek out their relevance within the context of modern society.

While Walsh touches upon a number of famous figures and phenomenon that might be used to suggest a link between mental distress and creativity or genius, the description of the precise mode in which these two elements sometimes interact is somewhat lacking. While it may be tempting to suggest that someone who is strongly affected by a given mental health issue is more volatile and therefore more likely to produce something remarkable, there seems to be another explanation waiting in the wings.

People who experience or suffer certain emotional or psychological issues, whether clinically diagnosed or not, are often engaged in examining their own subconscious mind and in exploring their interactions with the world at large. Through necessity, simply curiosity, or the encouragements of habit and time, people affected mentally in different or destructive ways in response to events may have a much better insight about themselves and the environment. Adding to this possibility, the fact that many modern creative and scientific talents have experienced mental health issues suggests that the process of examining the self and the world through the eyes of therapy may aid the creative process and bolster the brain.


© Copyright 2009 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • missy


    July 22nd, 2009 at 3:03 PM

    how nice to see an article that does not pathologize people with issues and instead recognizes their genius. i mean not to say people like vangough and other creative geniuses didn’t suffer, but i just really really appreciate the human tone. thanks good therapy for bringing some love and light into the world.

  • kyle


    July 24th, 2009 at 7:22 AM

    so maybe we should ignore some of the mental illness? we may be getting rid of the next great artist by trying to treat them

  • Wanderer


    July 25th, 2009 at 7:25 PM

    The key question isn’t “What fosters creativity?” But it is why in God’s name isn’t everyone creative? Where was the human potential lost? How was it crippled? I think therefore a good question might be not why do people create? But why do people not create or innovate? We have got to abandon that sense of amazement in the face of creativity, as if it were a miracle if anybody created anything. – Abraham Maslow

    Perhaps normality is the crippling factor.

  • Dorin


    August 7th, 2009 at 5:34 AM

    Do you think mental illness relates to culture?

  • Fletcher


    August 12th, 2009 at 10:17 AM

    In what way, Dorin? If you’re asking about the manner in which mental illness is perceived or the treatments offered by different cultures – absolutely. A doctor in Outer Mongolia is not going to have an identical approach to one in New York. Or are you asking whether your cultural upbringing fans the flames of certain conditions?

  • Elizabeth R.

    Elizabeth R.

    August 16th, 2009 at 2:03 PM

    I like your explanation in the last paragraph better, GoodTherapy. Creatives since time began have examined themselves and the world through a different lens. That’s why their work is so exciting to behold. It’s not a stretch to think all that introspection would release their creativity and ignite sparks within them.

  • soldy


    August 16th, 2009 at 2:51 PM

    The prospect of mental illness being there doesn’t change what those artists achieved in their creative pursuits. Who cares? Aren’t we all just a little bit crazy? We were blessed to share their gifts. Creative visionaries have always marched to a different drum.

  • Cassie V.

    Cassie V.

    August 16th, 2009 at 10:37 PM

    Salvador Dali. There’s a man who was deliciously crazy genius. His paintings used to give me nightmares. Seriously, they did. I had an artbook of his work.

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Title   Content   Author is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard professional psychological or medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on