Saturday, May 29, 2010

Creativity and Schizophrenia

Fascinating article today at BBC News about the relationship between creativity and schizophrenia.

I worked for ten years as a manager in mental health services. I often found in discussions with those who didn't work in the area, that pre-conceptions and stigma associated with mental health were a massive barrier to understanding the subject .
I would LOVE to think the stigma is less nowadays .... I’m not sure.

Though I haven’t worked in mental health for more than 15 years I remain in touch with many people involved in mental health services and the word stigma still regularly crops up in conversation.

The saddest and most frustrating part of that stigma is that WE ALL walk a very thin dividing line between a state of 'mental health' and 'mental ill-health.'

I suffered serious acute clinical depression about 10 years ago to the extent I needed the sanctuary of hospital treatment.
Through a mixture of; the support of others; developing self-coping mechanisms; most importantly for the last six years the love and support of Annie and God I’ve never returned to that dark place. No pills were needed after the acute phase. By the way I'm not 'anti pills' - they work very well for some and that's great.

Take it from me acute clinical depression is a very scary place to be.

The results of this research don’t surprise me
Some of the most creative people I’ve met suffer dramatic mood swings.

It is refreshing to note the number of high profile people throughout history in all walks of lfe who have experienced mental health problems. The list includes Winston Churchill, Vincent Van Gogh, Florence Nightingale, Agatha Christie, Charles Darwin, John Nash and modern day icons Stephen Fry, John Cleese and Robbie Williams. A pretty impressive list I’d say and I’m sure there are many others.

Chartered psychologist Gary Fitzgibbon says an ability to "suspend disbelief" is one way of looking at creativity. "When you suspend disbelief you are prepared to believe anything and this opens up the scope for seeing more possibilities. Creativity is certainly about not being constrained by rules or accepting the restrictions that society places on us. Of course the more people break the rules; the more likely they are to be perceived as 'mentally ill'."

Today I hope you will join me in celebrating those people who are ‘labelled’ with a mental illness tag. It’s an unfair tag because it projects a negative view. Anyone grappling this day with mental health challenges has my understanding, my support, my respect and my love.


Marilyn Jess, DTM said...

I am so glad had the courage to posted this. In the USA we are working on parity for mental health care coverage by insurance companies That is a huge step forward.

Every family has someone with a degree of illness, including mine. Depression is the #1 illness world wide, and when we start to see it as an illness and not a choice, then the tide will really turn.

Simplicity mates--there is an audio book which will be a game changer for you. Highly recommended--The Noonday Demon, read by the author, Andrew Solomon. Mental illness is just that, illness AKA a medical issue.

Trevor Gay said...

Hi Marilyn and thanks as always for your comments.

I don’t actually see it as ‘courage’ to talk about these things. It’s merely a statement of fact. Depression is an illness - not a choice. It’s as simple as that.

In my case it was an acute episode of depression at a time in my life when things felt pretty hard to deal with. It was one of the greatest learning episodes in my life. I was lucky that I bounced back thanks to a lot of support and developing self-coping skills.
As a result of ‘being there’ I can relate to some degree how people may feel when things get a little bit too much to deal with.

I’m delighted to report I’ve not been depressed since 2004 and I get irritated - to say the least - when some unkind and unsympathetic people see depression as if it were something we can control.

Rest assured when one is in a state of acute clinical depression I’m afraid rationality goes out the window in a big way.

I don’t often talk about my own experiences because I consider myself blessed and lucky. I came through it. My feelings are for those people who are misunderstood for years. Such people can easily be labelled ‘mentally ill’ for no good reason.

When cynics realise that people with mental health problems are not from another race we will all be much the better for it.

fisherking said...

Thanks for this post Trevor. As you know I have a long term bipolar mental health condition and talk freely about it.

I like to look at the positive aspects of my condition, rather than the negative aspects. I celebrate them. I celebrate the creativity, despite the darkness I have to endure. It is what makes me who I am. I hope articles such as these help break down the stigma and promote more understanding of what people experience who have mental health conditions. Rationallity certainly goes out the window when I have a depressive phase, as I did last week and am still riding out. I know I am not being rationalle during these phases, but there is nothing I can do about it. However, given the choice of being free of my condition and loosing my creativiy, I would opt for keeping the condition. I would not have been able to write the books I have written or achieved all that I have in life without my bipolar. My life is like a rollercoaster, a runaway train that I can't get off and that I have to see to the end of the line. Asked if I wan't to get off, the answer is "no."

Trevor Gay said...

Thanks David – your words say it so much better than mine. Look forward to meeting up again soon.

hucknjim said...

Trevor and to you David,

While I am glad that you are able to ride out your depressive episodes in order to enjoy the manic (though I know that's not politically correct) ones, I feel compelled to provide a counterpoint.

My mother suffered from paranoid schizophrenia from her late twenties through the rest of her life. I will never forget a phone call I got at work one day when she said in a shaky voice, "John, come get me. I don't know what's going on." By the time I got there she barely recognized me and her reality was radically altered to the point that she was a danger to herself. My brothers and I were able to get her committed to the hospital. As difficult as that was for her, and for us, it proved to be serendipitous because she finally found a psychiatrist who was able to convince her that she needed treatment. That treatment included a monthly shot that controlled her symptoms instead of relying on her to take meds on her own.

Now none of this is to say that you need to take your meds David. It is to say that my mother would not have lived the long and happy life she did without them. It is also to say, to echo what Marilyn said, that mental illness is a medical issue.

Every case is different. Antibiotics aren't prescribed for a cold, but God help the doc who doesn't prescribe one for pneumonia. That doc has a lawsuit in his future. Just my two cents.


Trevor Gay said...

Hi John – great to hear from you as always

First of all I’m pleased your mother was treated effectively for her illness and that she lived a long and happy life with medication. You will recall I did say in my posting that medication is great for some people. With any mental health issue it’s a case of different strokes for different folks just as you say. I had medication for an acute phase of depression and I was very grateful for it. It was definitely a prop to help me through a dark period of my life and I never dismiss pills as an option.

The fact your mother found a person she could believe in, is wonderful and I think, very significant. I did the same and I consider myself fortunate that I didn’t need medication long term.
If ever I become depressed again in my life I certainly would not refuse medication because we all need a prop now and again. Of course I hope I don’t need to go there ever again to that place called acute depression because the great news for me is that Annie and God have changed my perspective about what is really important – one word sums it up and that word is love.

David Stocks said...

Thanks for your comments John, at no stage did I say that I don't need to take my meds, unfortunately my condition needs the mood stabilizers that I am on and I believe I will be on them for the rest of my life. One of the symptons I have struggled to deal with is psychosis, which means I have difficulty at times understanding reality. It was a hospital stay that saved my life. It is not only the medication and psychological treatment that I have received because of that, but the understanding and support from fellow patients that has helped me get back on an even keel since then. I personally need medication, but I don't want to say that everyone with a mental health condition needs it for the rest of their life, as that has the negative effect of suggesting that you can't recover from that condition. That said, you should always keep taking your medication, unless advised by a doctor. My medication stops my mood swings being so severe, but it doesn't stop them altogether.

Dave Stocks