Art and Mental Illness

Art and Mental Illnesses

Creativity and mental illnesses are thought to be linked biologically, and people with mental illnesses often use art as a creative outlet. Adrienne Sussman wrote in the Stanford Journal of Neuroscience, “The contradiction of the genius who creates great artwork despite (or because of) mental illness, has been part of Western legend for thousands of years.”1

Science suggests that the prefrontal cortex may play a role in the cognitive functions necessary for creative exploration and processing.2,3, Researchers believe that activity in the frontal lobe may also be responsible for combining information from different parts of the brain in innovative ways.4

How exactly biology, creativity, and mental illnesses are connected remains a great scientific mystery, yet scientists are working to find the connections. Overall, engagement with artistic activities, either as an observer or artist, may have the ability to enhance a person’s emotions and other psychological states, as well as have a salient impact on important physiological parameters.5

Creating a dialogue surrounding mental illnesses through works of art and creative expression can destigmatize mental illnesses and cultivate empathy.6

If you or a loved one is having a mental health crisis, know that there is help. Go to the nearest hospital, emergency room, call 1-800-273-TALK or text HELLO to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to reach someone live. You can also call 911 for immediate assistance. If you are living outside of the U.S., see a full list of country-specific suicide hotlines here.

1Sussman, A. “Mental Illness and Creativity: A Neurological View of the ‘Tortured Artist’.” Stanford Journal of Neuroscience Volume 1(1). (2007): 21-24.

2Flaherty, A. “Frontotemporal and Dopaminergic Control of Idea Generation and Creative Drive.” The Journal of Comparative Neurology Volume 493 (1). (2005): 147-153.

3Souza, L et al. “Frontal Lobe Neurology and The Creative Mind.” Frontiers in Psychology Volume 5 (2014).

4Heilman, K, et al. “Creative Innovation: Possible Brain Mechanisms.” Neurocase Volume 5. (2003): 369-79.

5Staricoff R, Loppert S. “Integrating The Arts Into Health Care: Can We Affect Clinical Outcomes?” The Healing Environment Without and Within London. Deborah Kirklin. London: Royal College of Physicians; 2003. 63–80.

6Kandel, Eric. “Theory of the Mind: Why Art Evokes Empathy.” Your Daily Microdose of Genius. Big Think, 2017. Web Oct. 2017.