Do art and depression go hand in hand?

What is the image that comes to your mind when you think of an artist? Let me guess- constantly smoking, brooding over a blank canvas, contemplating every stroke of their brush and jumping up at the slightest distractions. It also makes you wonder what sort of demons they are battling on the inside to be so fitful and anxious. And if every artist you know is not in the right state of their mind, then it must tell us something, right?

It does feel like there is a connection

Kurt Cobain, the lead vocalist of Nirvana, committed suicide on April 5th, 1994, has become a prominent icon of art and depression correlation.
Kurt Cobain, the lead vocalist of Nirvana, committed suicide on April 5th, 1994.

We, as a society, romanticize mental illness. We believe that people who battle depression, bipolar disorders and schizophrenia must be so strong. Examples like Kurt Cobain, Vincent Van Gogh, Sylvia Plath, Earnest Hemmingway and Virginia Woolf only feeds into these hypotheses. There have also been studies that show a link between creativity and mental illness. For example, one study in England, conducted by the national office of statistics, found that people working in the arts industry were four times more likely to kill themselves. Another study conducted in 2013 said that authors were more prone to severe mental disorders like depression, bipolar syndrome, schizophrenia, substance abuse and many more.

Is that the whole story, though? Do arts and mental illness really go hand in hand?

Well, it might seem so, but all these studies are inconclusive.

Correlation or Coincidence?

Do art and depression go hand in hand?

A lot of external factors can come into play when it comes to a person’s mental health. There can be past traumas, genetic links, or simply a fact of a disruptive lifestyle. None of these factors can make a person more creative than s/he already is. But it seems that only the people struggling with mental issues are thriving as artists. Believing that is not completely on us, because like I said, we tend to romanticize mental issues. But according to numerous psychologists, claiming that only depressed, anxious people are more creative will be an overkill. True, art is a way of dealing with whatever hardships life throws at you. Sometimes, people who are trying to deal with all of their emotions tend to get mentally sick. They express those struggles through words, music and brush strokes.

However, there are a large number of artists who are just as creative, just as famous and they do not have any sort of apparent mental struggles. In fact, the latter might be more in number. Having a mental health issue isn’t a necessity for an artist. Sometimes it just works as a catalyst.

Call a spade a spade

Do art and depression go hand in hand?

Bottom line, the next time you see someone torturing themselves and giving excuses like “it’s for my art”, drag their behind to a shrink. There can be a deeply rooted identity crisis within these people. There is a possibility that they keep themselves miserable just because they do not know who they would be without this part of themselves.

Read more: 5 places in Dhaka to get counselling help.

Whatever the case is, these people are capable of living a healthy life filled with both joy and sadness. They don’t have to be depressed for the sake of art. Tell them that. Help them heal. And someday, they will thank you for it.

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