• Carmen Milligan

The fine line

Updated: Mar 31, 2021

My eldest son has wanted me to address the ... what word to use ... ? To put it plainly, there seems to be a lot of mental illness among artists, whether the art is music, painting, or acting. It seems that, to be creative, is also to be at least a little mentally ill. What is it about the creative brain that teeters so close to the edge of acceptable behavior?

But my son is not the only one to notice this. This has become so widespread and talked about in the mental health community that there was a conference created around the tie between the two, called "Creativity and Madness". From their webpage:

Our conferences are unique. Empathize with Vincent Van Gogh as he struggles to maintain his sanity, how, near the end, he painted in a frenzy trying to achieve what he wrote to his brother Theo, “I want to touch people. I want them to know what is in the heart of a lonely, irascible man like me”. Feel the excitement of Camille Claudel as she becomes Rodin's student, mistress, and competitor. Know her desperation as she encounters obstacle after obstacle to the recognition of her genius, and her sorrow as she is confined to an asylum for the final years of her life. Become aware of her tragedy as she is oppressed and destroyed by the culture in which she lived.

Wow! Makes me want to pony up the money to attend the 2021 conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

We've all seen or experienced the "eccentristic" artist. As seen in the attached picture, perhaps the most studied is the event of Vincent Van Gogh cutting off his right ear. But there are other examples. More and more medical papers are being written, and more research is being done on the link between creativity and psychopathology. But is there as much medical research as there is attention? Is this just a very sexy subject that is very difficult to measure or prove?

Putting mental illness in the forefront of people's minds, and taking away the stigma is crucial to it gaining acceptance and not remaining a taboo subject. Many singers are using their platform to advocate for mental illness, like Shirley Manson, Ariana Grande, and Demi Lovato. They have all struggled in their own way. Comedian Pete Davidson has been very forthcoming about his struggles, substance abuse and dependence, and the fact that support networks are vital to recovery.

What can the average person do? We can discuss it, accept that it exists, and support the use of doctor-prescribed drugs, as well as psychological and psychiatric care as a routine and accepted course of treatment. There is no shame in seeking help, and we need to make sure that we share and spread this mentality. Encourage it. Reach out and check on your friends. We need to get to the point of believing that taking blood pressure medicine and anxiety medicine are the exact same thing - normal, necessary, and expected.

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