The mental health of writers is something I've always been interested in. Since my early teens, I've been one of the most ridiculous hypochondriacs in the world. I constantly worry about every sign and symptom my body tells me about. As far as my mind is concerned, I've had every form of cancer at least once, I have heart failure and will likely fall over at any minute, and all other “rare” forms of diseases will likely include me in their statistics someday. It’s this persistence that my mind has that continues to force the, “highly unlikely,” into becoming the, “probably going to happen.”
But I can’t help but wonder, is there a correlation between writers of creative texts with hypochondria, anxiety, or sometimes even depression? I first thought about the topic when I was in college. I had a creative writing class under one of the most interesting men alive. This guy was slow to speak and careful with words. His tone was always mellow and monotone and yet there was no way to divert your attention. His random bursts into lyrical ballads about everything around: the walls, the trees, the birds outside, always had you wondering what in the world he was going to say next. Needless to say, he was one of my favorite professors.
We didn't meet in a classroom. No, he thought the writer should not be so isolated; their mind should not be encompassed by the walls around it. For that reason, he said we should go, “where we're able to best get released into our writing.”
I went home. Every. Single. Day.
But I wrote. I did what he asked. I went home and I wrote. I wrote short stories; I worked on a novel; I wrote poetry. It was an excellent class that let me go home and do something I did anyway; it was great. Throughout the year we met in the library on a number of occasions to review my portfolio. One piece of short fiction I had wrote was about a man who suffered from an anxiety disorder. Needless to say, this led me and my professor into a conversation about writers who struggle with these kinds of mental health issues. He said that he himself had suffered from hypochondria over the years. This made me wonder. Could it be our general mindset that makes both our creative talents and hypochondria possible?
As writers, we dwell in the realm of impossibility. I know that I’m constantly envisioning things that will never, ever, ever happen. I wonder what it would be like if I had super powers, or if zombies invaded the planet. Long car rides constantly causes me to consider fictional scenarios where the good guy is faced with an impossible decision, or what would happen if the bad guy actually won. Throw in a few doses of, “Oh shit I need to pay that bill,” or, “This mole looks kind of odd…,” and you essentially have my mind figured out.
There was another piece of evidence that I found interesting throughout my studies. Go back to the beginning of written literature and begin searching the demise of famous authors. You'll find that many of them killed themselves in some pretty gruesome ways. Ernest Hemingway put a shotgun in his mouth and Sylvia Plath placed her head in an oven and died from fumes.
But that’s not all. Look at this list of famous authors who have killed themselves. Are you serious?!? It’s huge! Even more interesting is the “Sylvia Plath effect,” coined by James Kaufman. In 2001, Kaufman noticed an interesting correlation between poets and mental health issues. While the study distinguishes a difference between poets and other creative writers, the article also states that creative writers in general have increased risk for mental health issues.
Now, before people start bashing me about using Wikipedia as a source, I've decided to include something a tad more reputable. Edward Hare published an article in the British Medical Journal entitled, “Creativity and Mental illness.” Throughout the article, Hare states there have been numerous studies that show mental illness is more commonly evident in creative people than those who aren’t. Also as a piece of evidence, he states, “[Researchers] found that the rate of admission to metal hospitals of college graduates were 6 times higher than the rest of the populace,” insinuating that those with creative talent or higher intelligence are more susceptible to forms of mental illness.
Of course, by no means am I indicating that I’m of “higher intelligence.” I can’t even peel an apple without cutting my fingers off. However, I do believe that people who have creative talents suffer in other forms of cognitive function. For example, my attention span is garbage, and I have an absolute awful since of direction. Seriously, I can’t run out to the nearest Taco Bell without a GPS.
So, what says you reader? Are you a hypochondriac like me? Perhaps you’re a writer who has no anxiety issues whatsoever. I would love to hear about it!