Mood disorders have been a documented part of the human condition for thousands of years. Throughout that time, our understanding of said disorders have shifted drastically.
For example, back in the 5th Century B.C., people believed illnesses like depression were the result of demonic possession. Treatment, which involved flogging, restraint and starvation, was designed to expel the evil spirits.
Today, of course, we see things a little differently. Okay, very differently.
Through extensive research, we’ve come to observe that mood disorders like depression and mania are largely symptoms – not of evil beings but of intelligence and creativity.
Mood Disorders – The Cost Of Intelligence & Creativity?
In one long-term study, a team of researchers collected IQ data from almost 2,000 8-year-olds. Years later, when the children were 22 or 23, the researchers studied those who had developed a mood disorder.
They found that those individuals were often the ones who had a high IQ as children.
“There is something about the genetics underlying the disorder that are advantageous,” said lead researcher Daniel Smith. “One possibility is that serious disorders of mood – such as bipolar disorder – are the price that human beings have had to pay for more adaptive traits such as intelligence, creativity and verbal proficiency.”
That’s a long way from the demon hypothesis, isn’t it?
Daniel Smith isn’t the only researcher to reach that particular conclusion.
In another study, researchers tested schizophrenia and bipolar patients to see if their illnesses were a predictor of creativity. Believe me when I say the study was extensive; they looked at data from more than 86,292 patients.
What they found was that individuals enrolled in a creative profession were 25% more likely to carry traits related to a mood disorder.
“Our findings suggest that creative people may have a genetic predisposition toward thinking differently, which, when combined with other harmful biological or environmental factors, could lead to mental illness,” said Robert A. Power, the study’s lead author.
How Do Psychiatric Medications Fit Into All This?
Not well, it seems.
Many experts, like Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, believe that our current pharmaceutical methods of treating mood disorders are actually ruining creative potential and brilliance.
“Lithium and other mood stabilizers are extremely effective for controlling mania and depression, but in some patients these drugs can limit emotional range,” she said.
This limit in emotional range can have drastic effects on one’s ability to become engrossed in something.
Dr. Jamison is not the only expert to hold this negative view of psychiatric medications. Dr. Peter Gøtzche, as we discussed here, shares a similar view.
These expert opinions are backed up by a number of individual testimonies, like this one.
Could it be that our current treatment of mental illness is really not all that different from those practiced thousands of years ago? Could it be that we’re still trying to flog – albeit now metaphorically – ‘demons’ out of patients. Are we throwing the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak?