Researchers agree that mental illness is neither necessary nor sufficient for creativity. But is there still a significant link between the two?
The oft-cited studies by Jamison (1989), Andreasen (1987), and Ludwig (1995) showing a link between mental illness and creativity have been criticized on the grounds that they involve small, highly specialized samples with weak and inconsistent methodologies and a strong dependence on subjective and anecdotal accounts (Schlesinger, 2009).
To be sure, research does show that many eminent creators—particularly in the arts—had harsh early life experiences (such as social rejection, parental loss, or physical disability) and mental, and emotional instability (Ludwig, 1995, 1998; Simonton, 1994). However, this does not mean that mental illness was a contributing factor to their eminence. There are many eminent people without mental illness or harsh early life experiences, and there is very little evidence suggesting that clinical, debilitating mental illness is conducive to productivity and innovation.
What’s more, only a few of us ever reach eminence. Beghetto and Kaufman (2007) argue that we can display creativity in many different ways, from the creativity inherent in the learning process (“mini-c”), to everyday forms of creativity (“little-c”) to professional- level expertise in any creative endeavor (“Pro-c”), to eminent creativity (“Big-C”).