Depression and Bipolar info explaining the latest research in everyday English


Creativity in Bipolar Disorder – are we all geniuses?

Actually, no. Sorry to burst a bubble.

It’s a good myth – that Bipolar Disorder (BD) sufferers are creative types that can burn the midnight candle and produce work that changes the world. Unfortunately, too much clinical evidence exists that points out extreme mania in BD is actually counter-productive to creative output. You might be outputting lots of work, but the quality is probably less than you would accept in normal circumstances.

Greg Murray and Sheri L. Johnson have reviewed the medical literature on BD and creativity and give us some interesting results:

  • Only 8-10% of BD sufferers can be considered ‘creative’ (put down that brush, Eugene);
  • There is an association between the psychological trait of ‘openness to new experiences’ (O) and BD, as there is with ‘psychoticism’ (P), suggesting that not only are BD sufferers more likely to be impulsive and take risks in order to do something different, but they are also more likely than the general populace to occasionally lace their impulsivity with a disregard for others;
  • If you suffer from BD and are strongly extrovert, you may well be drawn to the performance arts if you do have that creative bent;
  • Many of the creative professions can be counter-productive to the mental wellbeing of sufferers, because of disruption of sleeping patterns, irregular activity/work patterns, exposure to alcohol and narcotics, challenges to goals that are often set extremely high, an unusually strong identification with one’s occupation that allows no other income/lifestyle choice, and increased reinforcement of emotional sensitivity.

So what hope is there for creative types who have BD? Murray and Johnson suggest that we:

  • Continue our medication regime;
  • Where possible, limit the amount of travel, especially across time zones;
  • Find a psychoeducation program that will help us recognise our symptoms of mania and depression, recognise the triggers behind them and help us discover what we can do for ourselves to keep ourselves more stable;
  • Consider Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy if our schedules involve intense sleep disruption or travel;
  • Consider signing up for a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) course that will allow us to examine our thoughts and re-appraise unproductive core beliefs; and finally
  • Get some Family Focused Therapy so that we and our families can work together to manage our illness and its expression (especially because creativity seems to run in families and just because one member of the family has BD doesn’t mean that they’re alone).

Source: Murray, G. & Johnson, S.L. 2010 The clinical significance of creativity in bipolar disorder. Clinical Psychology Review 30(2010), pp.721-732

Please see our medical disclaimer.



Psychoeducation intervention for bipolar sufferers

I recently completed a 10-session therapy course for bipolar suffers and can attest to the help that such courses can offer.

The course first looked at the causes of bipolar disorder, what medical treatments are available, then moved on to the individual experiences involved, including identifying triggers and relief behaviours.

Each of the sessions lasted for three hours, including a mid-session tea/coffee break, and comprised not only individual self-assessment exercises but also group discussions where we shared our experiences – the frustrations and the benefits – of our bipolar lives.

I’m sure you can understand that the ‘frustrations’ far outweighed the ‘benefits’.

But even after only 12 weeks after the end of the course I find it difficult to remember any of the material we explored, suggesting that repeat, follow-up sessions would be advantageous. Naturally, no such sessions exist because there’s no funding for them in the Australian mental health system.

Emily Griffiths and David Smith from the department of psychological medicine at the University Hospital of Wales have briefly outlined in Mental Health Practice some of the findings their own research has uncovered into psychoeducation.

Psychoeducation, they say:

involves providing clients and their families with accurate and reliable information about their diagnosis to empower them to better manage their illness.

In the course I attended there was no space for family members, nor do I think they would have been invited – self-disclosure amongst peers is fraught enough with risk; disclosing our experience of our illness to non-sufferers would have potentially generated emotional responses no one would have welcomed. As it was, of the two facilitators our group had only one was a psychologist; the mental health-trained nurse seemed less flexible and less able to comprehend – other than academically/intellectually – our psychic pain.

Griffith & Smith’s group sessions involve:

  • Introduction
  • Diagnosis of bipolar disorder
  • Causes of bipolar disorder
  • Rôle of medication
  • Rôle of lifestyle changes
  • Relapse prevention and early intervention
  • Psychological approaches
  • Women and bipolar disorder
  • Advice for family and carers
  • Conclusions

They go on to point out that the mood disorders research team at their department has developed an online interactive psychoeducational tool for bipolar disorder, currently undergoing clinical trial with a view to becoming a cost-effective way of delivering high quality education to large numbers of bipolar sufferers. You can find the tool at

You can also find out more about the Hospital’s bipolar programme at

Source: Griffiths, S. & Smith, D. 2010. Psychoeducation intervention for people with bipolar disorder. Mental Health Practice, 13, 9, pp. 22-23.


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