There has long been a suggested connection between creativity and those who suffer from mental health issues. In fact, the idea of madness and genius being almost indistinguishable was an idea put forward as long ago as the time of Aristotle and Ancient Greece. In more recent times a number of studies have been performed in the hope of answering this question once and for all.
It is true that some of the great creative minds of the past, including Ernest Hemmingway, Vincent Van Gogh and Virginia Woolf have all suffered from mental health issues. Research has also shown that individuals suffering from Bipolar in particular are often highly creative as well. Other studies have also indicated that amongst very creative people, the likelihood of suffering some form of psychiatric illness is high. Mental health issues and creativity also share similar traits, such as loss of logical progression in thought patterns and an increase in loosely connected ideas.
In another study, scientists claim to have found a link between high creativity and schizophrenia. In both cases, researchers have observed that the brain responds to dopamine (a neurotransmitter that is involved in the reward response) differently to the way it does in others.
There is another train of thought that suggests that mental illness still only exists because it holds some kind of unique advantages. Evolutionary theory suggests that if mental illness were purely destructive, natural selection would have weaned it out over the years. Certain symptoms of mental illness are seen as beneficial to us as a species. Anxiety for example can make us more alert and aware of possible outcomes. Similarly, other symptoms of mental illness can bring a flexibility in though patterns, an ability to “think outside of the square” that can help induce original thoughts, break down barriers and contribute to what we call progress.
Enough research has shown that there are too many instances of commonality between creativity and mental health issues to be purely coincidental, but why exactly there is such a link still remains to be explained. In the meantime, a high degree of creative achievement might in some way be part of a payoff to suffering the pain and symptoms of mental illness.