Depression and Creativity

Ever had The Black Dog chasing your shadow, second guessing your every move, telling you you’re never make it, and preventing your ability to leave the comfort of your bed?

The black dog

The black dog (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Black Dog isn’t often seen by most people, but many have felt its presence at various moments in their lives. It’s the dark hole we call depression.

According to MediLexicon’s Medical Dictionary, depression is:

“A mental state or chronic mental disorder characterized by feelings of sadness, loneliness, despair, low self-esteem, and self-reproach; accompanying signs include psychomotor retardation (or less frequently agitation), withdrawal from social contact, and vegetative states such as loss of appetite and insomnia.”

The Black Dog has drifted in and out my life at various times for varied reasons. Recently someone close was diagnosed with depression. Depression in anyone can be frightening, as often it’s so hard to know what to say and how to help, but when depression is diagnosed in a young person, it’s hard to not be in constant vigil of any self-harm or suicidal thoughts.

One of my characters, in my working YA novel attempts suicide. This suicide is brought on by the feeling of alienation amongst his peers, not fitting in and pressure from his parents. It’s a shake up for his parents, and while they are meek and guilt-ridden, his best friend and possible love interest is furious and struggles at first to know whether to enter his hospital room, let alone know what to say. Youth suicide is no joke, and I thought hard and long about whether this character should do this. But depression is a reality for many teens, the statistics suggest it’s growing, or at least being more diagnosed. So should we shy away from these issues as writers or artists?

According to New Zealand’s Ministry of Health, data collected between 2002 and 2004, showed New Zealand had the second highest male youth suicide rate and the third highest female youth suicide rate out of 14 developed countries. A child aged between five and nine committed suicide last year in New Zealand.

One of the leading causes of death amongst teenagers is suicide in the US. The Centers for Disease control report that it is the third leading cause of death, behind accidents and homicide, of people aged 15 to 24. Even more disturbing is the fact that suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for children between the ages of 10 and 14.

The Coroner Act here in New Zealand urges against irresponsible reporting, especially on the details of a particular suicide, as it may influence copycat suicide behaviour and normalise suicide as an appropriate response to a life stress. As an author maybe this is a useful guideline, leave out the details……and maybe focus on the victims, and how they feel.

In order to prevent teen suicide, is important to recognize what leads to it, and then treat the causes.

Suicide warning signs in depressed teens:

  • Talking or joking about committing suicide
  • Saying things like, “I’d be better off dead,” “I wish I could disappear forever,” or “There’s no way out.”
  • Speaking positively about death or romanticizing dying (“If I died, people might love me more”)
  • Writing stories and poems about death, dying, or suicide
  • Engaging in reckless behavior or having a lot of accidents resulting in injury
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Saying goodbye to friends and family as if for the last time
  • Seeking out weapons, pills, or other ways to kill themselves

From the website:

 If you think a teen or someone in your life is suicidal or depressed, talk to them, offer support and let them know you’re there for them, fully and unconditionally. But from my own experience if someone you know is suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts, get professional support for them and yourself. You can do this by going with them, if they want you to, to their personal physician and by asking for a referral to a depression specialist.

Creativity and Mental health – Is there a Connection?

It was reported last year in BBC’s health news that Swedish researchers at the Karolinska Institute found that creativity is often part of a mental illness, with writers particularly susceptible. The study looked at more than a million people.

The Swedish researchers found writers had a higher risk of anxiety and bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, unipolar depression, and substance abuse. They were also almost twice as likely as the general population to kill themselves. One of the outcomes of this research meant that further thought and research needs to go into how to treat those who are creative and suffer from a mental illness.

The young person I wrote about earlier in the post is a creative soul, and often spends her spare time writing or creating art. Already at a young age she appreciates the time spent alone creating. But we don’t live on our own individual islands, and this young woman, like all of us, needs a community to feel a belonging with.

Along with that belonging she also needs the confidence to say ‘yes, this is who I am’ and to stand tall and be that person. But this is so hard. I know it. I’ve avoided myself for years.

But over the years I’ve also learnt how to use cognitive strategies to talk myself through these tough times. Life isn’t easy. But understanding ‘who you are’ and learning how to be more resistant to all that life tosses up at you can make the difference between drowning your sorrows with a hidden vodka stashed in one of many cupboards in your house or being present to life and taking the hard hits that life can force on you and walking away stronger.

Sometimes I watch these young people, especially those I love and I pray their life will turn out to be all they want. But you can’t stop them feeling pain. Part of living is discovering that life is made up of many moments of bliss, but just as many moments of disappointment and loss.

So what do you think? Have you ever suffered from depression, and if so, do you consider yourself a creative person? Do you think there is a connection? 

How can you beat depression? First of all, talk to someone who you can trust, a problem shared, is a problem halved, a cliché, yes, but like most cliché’s, they are used because they speak some truth. Then speak to your doctor or have a look at one of many websites on the net that support those suffering from depression and get some support wrapped around you. Do you have any advice to offer those who are depressed and especially those who are creative?



7 thoughts on “Depression and Creativity

  1. Pingback: Depression is Like a Bruise That Never Goes Away « Heart of Glass

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  3. Pingback: Isolation Preoccupation | Wilder Man On Rolling Creek

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  5. WOW. WOW. This is a powerful post … I am looking forward to following your work. The information about writers being particularly susceptible to mental illness hit me … somewhere … between the eyes: the first two mentioned …. anxiety and bipolar disorders … Well, enough said. This is a great article. Thanks … keep writing. By the way, this post came up as a related article when I was struggling to write a post, “Men’s Preoccupation With Isolation” ….

  6. Pingback: How do I watch the news without the suicidal feelings? -

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