According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five adults in the US have experienced mental illness at some point in their life. Writers and other creative types, however, suffer at much greater rates than the average American. Over a decade of studies show the following approximate statistics for authors and artists:
- Between 5 and 40 percent experience bipolar disorder.
- Between 15 and 50 percent have major depressive disorder.
- They carry twice the risk for schizophrenia.
- They are twice as likely to commit suicide.
These statistics are based only on what is reported, so true numbers could be higher. And though many strides have been made to erase the stigma of mental illness, a diagnosis can still carry shame for many sufferers. This can affect the average person in their daily life, but it can hinder a writer’s ability to write as well as their career. What can authors do to not only survive mental illness but to also channel their ailments to assist their writing?
Good news! Some believe having a mental illness can actually contribute to great writing. According to Psychology Today, “Mental health professionals have observed the therapeutic effects of writing on patients with schizophrenia—finding that the creative process assists these individuals with managing their symptoms” (https://psychologytoday.com).
Writing has long been considered a cathartic process. Edgar Allen Poe is known for having multiple mental illnesses at a time when psychology didn’t widely recognize them or have proper treatment in place. He is known for saying in a fan letter, “I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.” And he isn’t the only famous author to suffer.
Knowing one is not alone is always the first line of defense against mental illness. More authors and creatives are also speaking openly about their battles. Not everyone is equipped to discuss their afflictions publicly, but if you are one of them, you can help countless others who suffer in addition to providing an outlet to cleanse your mind.
This is the first in a series of three articles discussing mental illness and the role it can play in an author’s career.