Why Do So Many Artists Suffer From Bipolar Disorder?

An anecdotal observation that is often mentioned about musicians and artists is that a large number of them suffer from bipolar disorder. American rapper Kanye West even mentioned his disorder on an album title of his that read “I hate being bipolar[,] It’s awesome”. This week by chance I happened upon a research paper in the journal of Economics and Human Biology which examined the link between professional creativity and bipolar disorder.

The results of the paper find that individuals who suffer from “bipolar illness appear to be disproportionately concentrated in the most creative occupational category”. In order to assess the different levels of creativity in different occupations the study uses occupational creativity scores. These occupational creativity scores represent the percentage of employees in a particular occupation who engage in abstract and creative activities and the measure ranges from 0 to 100.

Some summary statistics on differing levels of creativity between individuals without and with bipolar disorder from the paper can be seen in the figure below.

As can be seen individuals with bipolar disorder appear to exhibit higher levels of mean and median creativity than individuals without bipolar disorder. One of the main reasons it is thought having bipolar disorder can increase an individuals level of creativity is because common symptoms of a manic episode may help encourage creative behavior. Manic episodes tend to be characterized by several of the below symptoms:

  • Increased activity
  • Talkativeness
  • Flight of ideas
  • Inflated self-esteem
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Distractibility
  • Excessive involvement in risky activities

It isn’t too hard to see how some of these symptoms may help foster creativity. Having a ‘‘flight of ideas’’ and experiencing high levels of ‘‘talkativeness’’ may even facilitate rhyming and verse. Whereas increased activity and decreased need for sleep may induce greater productivity. If you are interested in keeping up with more analysis of the Irish music industry, please give Music Economics a like on Facebook.

By Daragh O’Leary

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