Hypomania and creativity


The link between creativity and mental illness has been well documented. It is said that Sylvia Plath, Earnest Hemingway, Vincent Vangogh and numerous others had suffered from Bipolar affective disorder (that is fluctuating episodes of (hypo)mania and depression).

Mania can be described as to be exactly opposite of what depression brings. Hypomania represents the lesser degree of mania. Hypomania is characterised by cheerfulness, increased confidence, increased goal directed activity, decreased need for sleep, overgrooming, disinhibition etc. Obviously with these features it is unlikely that a person’s family members would take him to a doctor. Because in their eyes, the person is more productive, happy and active than before.

With all the research relating mood disorders and creativity, the exact nature of the relation has remained speculative. One of these days we had a debate regarding this. The question was whether actually people with Bipolar affective disorder are (qualitatively) more creative or whether we get to see more of their works because they are (quantitatively) more productive?



A writer is always at war with the society. Even the most conformist ones. Creating something is always a risk. He is at loggerheads with his family as he is shutting himself up in his room taking away time he should be spending with them. If you are not successful with your writing or if you are a first timer, the problems become more profound as economic issues also come up. And again there is no guarantee what you are creating will turn out to be. If one considers the statistics, it is more likely that it will disappear in the sands of time.

So what happens if you are suffering from hypomania? You let go of all your commitments- You don’t give a damn. You go after what you want to do. Though there is still no guarantee that what you create is something good, the more prolific you are, more chances that you will come up with a gem. A study on Gogol’s literary life shows that he was most productive during hypomanic phases. But on the other hand, another study showed that binge pattern of writing during hypomanic episodes may be counter productive compared to daily writers who rely on discipline rather than emotion.hemingway-ernest-hemingway-portret

So what is there to contest this argument that you see more mood disorders in writers than in general population because it helps them to produce more and increase the chances of creating something of real value?

There is some data that many of the well known writers with mood disorders have  produced their greatest literary works during phases of depression rather than hypomania. Depression is a period where the motivation to do anything decreases. This is against the argument of increased productivity. It points more towards these people being inherently more creative. But again the data available is inadequate because all these assessments are retrospective. Accounts are drawn from multiple sources including documents and hearsay. So it is really difficult to clinically ascertain what was one’s mood state in a particular month around 50 years back. Again some studies have shown that artistic persons with bipolar disorder produce more when they are treated for their disorder and are midway in terms of their mood. So one cannot make any real conclusions out of this.

But as a writer, one can say that being fearless may pay. It may be that what differentiates an artist who is successful from who is not is just the readiness to go the distance regardless of the consequences. Most of the problems we perceive exist only in our mind. And one should also bear in mind that talent and artistic capability is not a zerosum game. The more we take out from ourselves, the greater the chance that we come up with a gem.



4 thoughts on “Hypomania and creativity

  1. Oh man, I love these kind of posts! You have talked something very interesting here and rightly debated that nothing concrete could be said between the link between creativity and hypo mania. Your post got me thinking..
    Well, there is no doubt that many creative people are considered eccentric by ‘normal’ standards and they do have highs and lows in their moods. But when I think about many talented directors ( Kubrick, Allen, Scorsese, Coen Brothers, Spielberg etc), they have led very normal lives, hardly exhibiting any strange behavior patterns. Yes, Kubrick was very elusive but still he had a normal family life within his private life and loved his kids/pets. Woody Allen has for decades lived a very disciplined normal life, working six days a week and playing clarinet in the evenings. Infact he was most productive during the infamous court case between him and Mia farrow. Scorsese and Spileberg are very normal behaving disciplined family people and so are Coens.
    But again, as you said, nothing decisive could be said of any such link or lack of it.

    1. Yeah its true that these things cannot be generalisable. The main reason is that we know so little about the personal lives of these people. We see what they want us to see. Still many of them have very structured lives. I read somewhere that neighbours of Schopenhauer used to correct their clocks according to his appearance in the streets as he was very punctual regarding his 4 O’clock walk. I dont know whether its true.

  2. I remember that it was Kant whom people used to correct their clocks. Anyhow following strict routines is rather a sign of underlying anxiety. The rigidity of a structured life rather a way to allay angst.

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