Blog by Toby Welch

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Writers and Mental Illness

Are writers out of their minds? Studies have shown that there is a strong link between writers and mental illnesses. The theory has been officially pondered since the 1830s and while studies show creative types seem more prone to mental illness, the debate continues.

Mental illnesses are not something you can snap out of. They are not character flaws or a sign of weakness. Like other physical diseases, people suffering with mental disorders need treatment to get better. Mental illness is more common than cancer, diabetes, or heart disease.

Among writers, there are variances in the instances of mental illness. Psychiatrist Arnold Ludwig found a striking difference in mental illness rates when he analyzed nonfiction and fiction writers. Nonfiction writers and journalists had a lifetime mental illness rate of 47%. Novelists sat at 59% and poets had the highest rate at 77%. In comparison, the rate of mental illness among the general population lingers around 35%. It appears the process of creating is not the problem but the emotional conditions that make creativity conducive.

So, do creativity and mental illness go hand in hand? Many well-documented studies have indicated that that is the case. One study showed that famous writers are particularly prone with an average mental illness rate of 72%. Experts say that a writing career is the ideal environment for exacerbating mental illness symptoms. Writers often work alone and when they get into a funk, they do not always have people around them to recognize what is going on. Writing has one of the highest rejection rates of any career and writers often feel misunderstood. Never mind the frustration of wanting desperately to get words out of your brain yet ending the day with a blank page.  

Let us be grateful that we writers are generally embraced when we have a mental illness, yet we don’t have to be ‘crazy’ to be a great writer.