On Mental Illness/Psychiatric Diagnoses/Behavioral Health Disorders and Creativity: A Correlation is Not a Cause
By Ken K. Gourdin
In a thread on the blog Sic et non by Brigham Young University Assistant Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies Dan Peterson, the subject of mental illness came up. Anyone who has followed this Blog for any length of time is well aware that various people, in various ways and by various means, have been chasing more than a few bats in my own belfry over the years. The chase continues. At the risk of overusing metaphors, as I’ve also pointed out elsewhere on the blog, the dog of clinical depression has alternated between nipping at my heels and threatening to devour me whole for many years.
I mention that as prelude, lest anyone conclude, for some reason, that I consider those who have struggled, and who do struggle, with and against psychiatric diagnoses or behavioral health challenges as “other,” “they,” and “them.” I cannot assure my reader in strong enough terms that nothing is further from the truth. Such challenges are so common that even if one does not experience such a struggle himself, chances are very good that he has a friend or a family member who does (or who will) experience such a struggle.
I commented, “I don’t think the folks who decided that mental illness is simply another, equally-valid way of experiencing the world did society any favors.” When another commenter, despite the seemingly increased prevalence of such diagnoses among, e.g., the artistically inclined, I commented:
I think, overwhelmingly, that whatever a person who happens to have a psychiatric diagnosis achieves, he does so more in spite of his condition than because of it. (And, to me, that makes such achievements even more impressive.) It’s important to remember that even if the incidence of such diagnoses is higher among, e.g., the artistically inclined, a correlation is not a cause.