• Jack Graves

With Great Genius Comes Great Insanity?

Updated: Mar 3, 2021

Think You're A Genius? You Might Be Prone To Mental Illness.

There are plenty of known cases of characters who stood out in different disciplines (writers, scientists, artists) to the point of being designated as mavericks, unique innovators and creators; geniuses. Whilst the world witnessed their greatness, hiding within the shadows were personalities ladened with self-esteem issues, anxiety, depression and even bouts of schizophrenia.

Countless are the occasions in which, when talking about the personality of certain individuals who have excelled in some specific fields, have been linked to some type of mental disorder.

With Great Genius Comes Great Insanity?

Genius is really within the reach of anyone who has the right concerns and skills to develop creative work (whether or not they suffer from a disorder), although it must be recognized that many have suffered from it and have succeeded and thrived.

Some specialists point out that this is because the individual suffering from a mental problem or disorder usually takes refuge in creative work as a means of escape from their anguish and suffering. Therefore, that work would be highly therapeutic, so they devoted all their time and energy, channelling it into the one thing that gave them escape from their madness, and subsequently becoming masters in their craft to earn the title of genius.

“The only difference between me and a crazy man is that I am not crazy." - Salvador Dali

There are many geniuses we know who have suffered from mental illness. To mention a few: writer Virginia Woolf suffered from bipolar disorder, Brian Wilson (singer and songwriter for the Beach Boys) suffered from schizoaffective disorder, John Nash (Nobel Prize in economics) was diagnosed with Schizophrenia at the age of 29, Nikola Tesla (one of the great inventors of the 20th century) suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder and Edvard Munch (the painter of the famous 'The Scream') suffered from alcoholism and depression.

The list could become quite extensive, but I don't want to bore you with a listicle (an article that's just a shopping list of whatever the title is) which makes us wonder if there is a relationship between artistic and scientific genius and mental illness.

It is also common to confuse the eccentric behaviour carried displayed by someone considered to be a genius (for example the painter Salvador Dalí) with the fact that they suffer from some mental disorder, genius can sometimes come across as crazy, but the two are not always synonymous.

Crazy Creative

Greater creativity in people is related to three fundamental factors:

  • cognitive disinhibition, (basically we have less mental filters to block out ideas and information that can make us do craxy and creative things)

  • Intelligence

  • Working memory.

People with low cognitive inhibition are more open to new ideas; If they are also smart and have a good working memory, they will be able to creatively devise solutions. There are also two other phenomena common to every creative act: superfluity and a regression to previous ideas. Superfluity allows generating a multitude of ideas and options that are analyzed; when one of those options leads us to a dead-end, the ability to go back and start another path can ultimately lead to creative success. Therefore, discoveries are not as accidental as is sometimes thought, but rather, are a process of trial and error.

Inspire Someone

In summary, although creative people do have a higher risk of developing a mental illness, especially a mood disorder, a schizoaffective disorder or alcoholism. Creativity is still a highly valued quality in society and a very valuable personal characteristic.

If you consider yourself a creative person and are reading this, fear not. This only makes it clear that regardless of whether someone suffers from a disorder, that suffering from a mental illness does not invalidate you from being exceptional in some field of work, creative or not. You just have to stay alert to the signs and seek support from friends, family and professionals of course. Many of the people named on this list have inspired and influenced millions, leaving an indelible mark on the world, and who knows, maybe one day you could also be that someone.


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