Creativity and Mental Health

creativity

creativity (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

It has long been thought that there is a correlation between mental ill-health and creativity. I’m sure everyone is familiar with the idea of the “mad artist” or “tortured genius” where the person’s “madness” is the supposed fuel for their genius. I am no scientist, so I don’t know how whether people in creative professions are more likely to have a mental disorder, and I know just enough to know that in any case correlation does not prove causation. While I don’t know whether we are more creative – or better at being creative – than the average individual, I do think that creativity can be very helpful when we are unwell.

When I went through my first episode I wrote reams of poetry, prose, fiction and non-fiction. I wrote websites where I published my work. I also kept a diary online back then. I wouldn’t say my work was any good – looking back at it some of it was quite obviously disturbed and the rest was melancholic, but I found it really helpful at the time. Somehow, to express in words what I was feeling in my head helped me evaluate what I was thinking, make a record, and come to a better understanding of what was normal and what was not, simply because seeing it written down made me look again at what I was thinking. It also gave me a sense of catharsis, letting the bad thoughts out and releasing them in a manner somewhat strangely like self injury. I can look back on the things that I wrote now, and see what was driving me at the time, what were my concerns and how was I feeling.

Spirituality is a creative activity. We form and say words in prayer, we recite poem-prayers in worship, we sing, we read, we may write, dance or draw as part of our worship. We, as humans, are creative beings – we may not be able to create from nothing as God does, but we, in his image, have the ability to create from things already present, whether that be a poem, or an artwork, or even a child. Our reliance on and trust in God works outward in our lives, and often seems to result in creative expression.

I believe creativity is good for our mental health, whether well or ill. I noticed that when I was in hospital, there were Occupational Therapists present who helped us with art on the ward, drawing, colouring in, and so on. While they were not art therapists which sounds interesting but I have never experienced it, they did help us draw our distress, and lose ourselves for a moment in a pleasant activity which takes up the concentration, uses the hands, and essentially takes our minds off our problems even if only for a moment. I have also been encouraged to write a personal diary of my thoughts – essentially a mood diary but a bit expanded, in order that I can look back and say, “on this day I was obviously quite depressed, but I was having a better day another day”. I have also found that when I keep a diary online, I receive help from the community of other ill people – people who will read, comment, and offer some hope and comfort when I am unwell.

I am rambling a little, I am aware that this post is not all it should be. However, here are my suggestions for being more creative:

Art

I am an awful artist. I draw like a child! However I do really enjoy drawing and often scribble something. The trouble is that, like a lot of non-artistic people, I sometimes find it hard to draw something, and certainly hard to draw something good. One way I have found which helps with this is do get one of those “doodle” books intended for children. They have part-finished drawings, quite simple (but not big teddy bears – I think they are intended for the tween market) but with directions. So for example there was a picture of the Pied Piper and a rat, with instructions to draw lots of other rats and space to draw them. I find these books really helpful when I want to be creative but am struggling with ideas or with the frustration I experience when my lovely drawing of a cat turns out to look awful. Going on from that..

I like to colour-in. I used to feel embarrassed about that, but I decided that, no one has to know about it and it’s fun! Actually when I was in the hospital there were adult colouring books there that people could use if they felt they could not draw something themselves. You can get spiritual ones from the Lindisfarne Scriptorum, which are excellent, and other adult colouring books can be found online. Don’t be ashamed to use a kids’ one either – if it makes you happy, just do it!

Craft

There are a number of crafty things you can make. These range from the very fancy jewellery, homewares and similar, to kids’ versions. As I mentioned before, I am no artist and I am a bit clumsy so the fancy stuff is not really for me. I do, however, have some Christian stamps from Time to Sow and some Christian kids’ crafts from Baker Ross which look like great fun and I’m looking forward to using them! If you are more creative, there are plenty of ideas online for crafting!

 Writing

I would heartily recommend the benefits of writing a diary, whether that be online or offline. I like to just pour out my thoughts, just release them and then look at them afterwards, to try to get some perspective on what I am feeling. As I mentioned above doing this online means other people may offer advice, or comfort, but the downside is that you might attract not-so-nice people.

I used to love writing poems and stories, but I find that almost impossible now. If you are able, please, indulge yourself – I wish I had written more before my ability to do all that just went away. Writing prayers or poems to God is the most wonderful use of your creativity, and one that I always used to find very uplifting, even when I wasn’t feeling well.

Music

I cannot play an instrument but if you can, making music is wonderful. However, even if you have a tin ear everyone can sing! I sing around the house all the time even though I have an awful voice – singing is very relaxing. Generally “making a noise” with drums and percussion instruments can be rather relaxing too (although the neighbours might not be so relaxed!)

Dance

Dance, like exercise can relax the body, build up strength and get the pulse racing. It can release endorphins and make you feel better, even if only temporarily. It can also be a very physical way to replace self injury.

 

I am no expert on creativity, but I have found doing some creative things helpful, both when well and when ill.

 Links

Wikipedia: Creativity and Mental Illness

Spirituality, Religion & Mental Health Across the North-East (pdf)

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Comments

  1. The Activisionist Network says:
  2. There’s this brilliant book called “Touched with Fire,” that looks at the link between manic depression and creativity.

    • I’ve heard of it, I think it’s by Jamieson? (I’ve forgotten her first name) I’ve been meaning to check it out for a while. Thanks for reminding me of it!
      Emma

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