Creativity and common mental disorders go hand in hand, study reveals. Stefansson says one needs to be different to think creatively. Experts say creativity cannot be labelled as a direct cause of madness.

Researchers in Iceland declare they found a link between creativity and increasing risk of common mental disorders. But does being creative and artistic really lead to the road to madness? Genetics usually isn’t so cut and dry. Millions of variables could be influence the working of a single gene. Here’s the report.

Common Mental Disorders: History is full of creative geniuses. But alongside the creativity a streak of madness also runs in some of the most artistic minds. Van Gogh suffered from a mental disorder as did Frida Kahlo while Virginia Woolf, Guy De Maupassant and Edgar Allan Poe all are literary giants who lost their lives to madness of the mind.

Scientists have found that the genes for creativity and madness overlap and that madness in geniuses might be due to the working of these genes. Lead author of the paper, Kari Stefansson, MD said, “We are using tools of modern genetics to take a systematic look at the basic aspect of how the brain works. To think creatively you have to be different. People who are carriers of genetic factors which characterize schizophrenia do think differently from the crowd.”

Dr. Stefansson is the founder and CEO of a genetics company deCODE Genetics based in Reykjavik Iceland. The findings were published in the online journal Nature Neuroscience.

The two illnesses that were examined were bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Bipolar disorder consists of two polar opposite mood swings: one is of happiness bordering on delirium (manic) and the other is an extreme case of sadness (depressive). Schizophrenia includes hallucinations, reduced expression of emotions and abnormal social behavior.

Researchers analyzed medical and genomic data from 86,000 Icelanders and found sets of variations in the DNA sequence which predicted the risk of schizophrenia doubling and the risk of bipolar disorder increasing by a third. They then found out these variants in people involved in creative work, around 1000 individuals associated with the creative art societies such as dancers, actors, musicians and writers in Iceland. They found that the members of such societies were 17% more likely to carry the DNA variants than non-members.

This study was based on a previous study conducted in Norway and Sweden among 35,000 participants in which it was found that individuals in artistic occupations similar to those of the Icelandic ones were 25% more likely to carry these variations in the genomic sequence.

However, experts warn against taking the results of the study too literally. There is likely to be a significant association between mental illnesses and creativity but it is not to such a great extent that creativity can be labelled as a direct cause of madness. In fact the genes associated with mental illness may have less than 1 percent of an impact on creativity.

Also creativity is not the product of just one set of genes. Neither can mental illnesses completely based on what our DNA contains. Factors like environment and stresses in life shape a lot of our mental make-up. Most people may carry the genes for schizophrenia but whether they are switched on or not can make a difference between having the possibility for the disease and actually having it.