The Association Between Major Mental Disorders and Geniuses

illustration of a creative brain being tortured by being wrapped in barbed wire and bleeding into an ink container

The notion of the tortured genius implies that every person who excels in their field is tormented by inner demons, or some form of a mental disorder. Essentially this idea places mental disorders as a prerequisite for the ability to excel in one’s field. This raises the question of whether there is a clear link between mental health disorders and geniuses, and what this link is.

The idea that mental disorders and geniuses are directly related began during the era of Ancient Greece. Ancient Greeks believed that geniuses were touched by the gods and, thus, had a touch of madness in them as a result. This idea has continued to be perpetuated all throughout history and has worked its way into modern times.

However, this notion may actually have some truth to it. Empirical evidence has shown that there is an overlap between creative individuals and those with major mental disorders. The difference between creative geniuses and tortured geniuses lies in the possession of certain qualities such as high intelligence, tenacity, curiosity, and energy, and the ability to be living in an era that welcomes their particular intelligence. If, however, an individual does not possess those qualities, or if they are rejected by the current social situation, then the individual is more likely to develop a major mental disorder.

Other studies have found an increased correlation of creativity and bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is defined by dramatic mood swings between extreme happiness and extreme depression. During the transition from depression to the manic, or happy, stage, the brain activity shifts, causing the lower part of the frontal lobe to almost shut down while upper parts increase in activity. This results in an increase in creative ability.

This increase of brain activity and creative ability is then translated into conscious thought and possible action because of the way those with psychosis process stimuli. In a normally functioning brain, contradictory thoughts are not processed simultaneously. However, in the brain of someone with bipolar disorder, not only are these thoughts processed simultaneously, but the brain is more aware of possible associations between the two. This allows a completely different type of creativity to occur.

Still, others believe that there is no link between being a genius and having a mental illness. These experts are quick to draw attention to the small sample sizes of these studies, as well as the fact that many of the studies make conclusions based upon self-reported data from the subjects. Another major issue with these types of studies that they point out is the inability of the studies to define creativity in an objective and measurable way.

Overall, the association between geniuses and mental disorders is an idea that has been around for many years.This could suggest a correlation between the two, however this link is not always concrete. Some research has been found to support this notion, yet its validity has been questioned by the opposition. Ultimately, the brain is a fascinating organ and we have yet to uncover all its secrets. Maybe one day we’ll get a clear answer on the association between geniuses and mental disorders.