Mental Illness is more than a deterrent and more than a burden.
Credit: Lielle Morr
Most of us usually attribute words to feelings. Some words have a negative connotation attached to them while others represent a more positive feeling. One thing that is prominent in everybody's lives is mental health. Whether you have heard about mental illness, struggle with mental illness yourself, or know someone who struggles with mental illness, most people are aware of the concept. However, it is always painted as a deterrent. I mean, the word “illness” in itself represents something that is imposing on normal health circumstances, and the word “mental” isn't usually associated with positivity most of the time either. However, for those who do struggle with mental illness, it can sometimes be difficult to see a very common thing be so weaponized by the media and by the majority of the public.
In the eyes of many, mental illness is as simple as a life deterrent, but in reality some of the music and art we enjoy the most are made by those who struggle with some of the most difficult mental battles.
Some of the most influential creators in history—Vincent Van Gogh, Tim Burton, Amy Winehouse, Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath—experienced difficulty with mental health, yet we still perceive mental illness as a one dimensional hindrance. It is time we open our eyes to the colorful minds of those who struggle with mental illness. The things that we have deemed as obstacles for so long may also act as creative pipelines for some of the art that many of us enjoy.
The idea that creativity and mental illness are linked is a highly controversial theory. This theory has gone unchallenged for a very long time despite there being a lack of evidence to support the claim. Most studies surrounding this concept usually measure creativity in regards to those who take on careers in the arts, but in the field of neuroscience the measure of creativity is still an ever-growing concept. However, one of the most recent studies on the dichotomous link between creativity and mental health was able to provide more answers based on neural activity. Five researchers from different universities worked on a study and meta-analysis in order to determine whether or not there was a link and if that link meant something. The research from this analysis allowed two conclusions to be drawn. One conclusion was that creativity is often used “as a strategy to regulate negative emotion and improve positive mental health by creatively reducing negative experiences and insightful or creative reappraisal toward negative situations or things.” The other finding was that it is important to “distinguish between individuals' dispositional creativity and strategic creativity” in order to get proper results. Creativity allows those who struggle with different mental health implications to express their negative emotions through artistic outlets such as song writing and painting.
Most people are familiar with famous works such as Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night, but hardly ever know the artist who created the piece they are so fascinated with. Starry Night, one of the most easily recognizable and impressive pieces of work across the world to this day, was painted in the room where Van Gogh was staying at Saint Paul Asylum \ due to the mental obstacles he was facing. The context surrounding this work is extremely significant, because despite the fact that he was admitted to an asylum for the mental hardships he was facing he was still able to create something so beautiful. Van Gogh was admitted to Saint Paul as the result of a nervous breakdown due to implied manic depressive disorder. While there, he was able to create Starry Night as inspired by the view outside his window. Despite the fact that Van Gogh faced incredible hardships with his severe mental illness as well as a lack of scientific understanding of mental illness during this time period, his creativity allowed him to express himself in a way in which the world continues to enjoy today.
Another artist whose work most people are familiar with is Amy Winehouse. Due to her impressive songwriting skills and her incredible voice, Amy Winehouse continues to be a household name to this day. However, hidden underneath the surface of her musical strengths existed battles that most audiences are entirely unaware of. Amy Winehouse, like many others, struggled with manic depressive disorder and bipolar disorder. This led to a life of hardships and even substance abuse, but despite the struggles she faced she was still able to produce popular music and remain a positive public figure to many. Her illnesses were kept in the dark and rarely ever discussed by news outlets despite mentions of her substance abuse problems. Amy is a symbol of resilience, representing the light that is often forgotten when one struggles with something deemed to be so dark.
The minds of those who struggle with issues below the surface are filled with so much more than just the darkness that is portrayed by most of the media, as these minds are what create the colorful aspects of art that we as a society continue to enjoy. It is time that we open our eyes and understand that struggling with the dark aspects of mental illness does not mean all of the light is taken away.
Jordan LoSardo is a First Year Political Science Major and Online Writer for Rowdy Magazine.