Creativity and Depression

by Eilis Flynn 

The recent death of actor Heath Ledger prompted discussion on a number of loops, bringing up the topic about the connection between creativity and depression. Is there a link? There’s no firm yea or nay on this controversial subject as of yet. According to Eric Maisel, whose book, THE VAN GOGH BLUES: THE CREATIVE PERSON’S PATH THROUGH DEPRESSION, there may be. Says Maisel, for the creative mind–the “creators,” as he refers to them (us)–“losses of meaning and doubt about life’s meaningfulness are persistent problems—even the root causes of their depression.” Maisel suggests that there are ways for the creative person to work through the down times, principal of which is to make what you do meaningful.

It may also help to know that we are not alone in our struggles. It may help to know that J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series (if she needed any introduction), has herself fought with depression and worked through it, hitting an all-time low when she could not shake the feeling that something was going to happen to her then-two-year-old daughter, explaining that “it was almost a surprise to me every morning that she was still alive. I kept expecting her to die. It was a bad bad time.”

It was at that point, she adds, that she began to write the first of the Harry Potter books, telling herself, “What was the worst that could happen? It could get turned down by every publisher in Britain. Big deal.”

Author Amy Tan also mentioned in a Salon interview that she has had bouts of serious depression, acknowledging that some of that may be biochemical, while some may be hereditary (her grandmother committed suicide). Tan acknowledges that she has had death affect her in her life, and considers how life is influenced by death, how it influences one’s beliefs. She adds that in some way, “I think I was pushed in a way to write this book by certain spirits” in her life. “They’ve always been there, I wouldn’t say to help, but to kick me in the ass to write.”

Author and RWA member Terri Brisbin suggested another work on the subject. Alice Flaherty’s book, THE MIDNIGHT DISEASE: THE DRIVE TO WRITE, WRITER’S BLOCK, AND THE CREATIVE BRAIN, discusses from an organic rather than psychological approach how the brain works, creativity, and other conditions that affect creative people, especially writers.

Ultimately, while we clearly can’t be upbeat and happy all the time, we also can’t be depressed all the time, and this is particularly the case if those happy times and down times are extreme. Acknowledgment is the beginning of working through depression, and according to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression is responsive to treatment. According to this website, “There is seldom a quick fix, but, the good news is, there are ways to cope.”

Copyright 2007 Eilis Flynn