Why Are Artists Depressed?
Are They Prone to Mental Illness?
“Why are artists depressed all the time…and weird?” I was asked this question last week and even though I know that we are usually more sensitive and odd or eccentric, it still made me bristle just a bit. But it’s true. Creative brains operate a little differently that non-creatives.
Artists’ minds are by nature open to new ideas and have the unique ability to think outside the box in more ways than just thinking outside the box! And in fact, they see things that other people are oblivious to and make connections that most never would.
That’s why they’re good at being artists!
There can also be the tendency to absorb far more in regards to sensory input than other people. This can be great for the art part of things, but extremely difficult on the social side of things. People call us sensitive and it’s true. We are far more open to sensory input and it can often feel like an attack. This is why many artists tend to stay to themselves or avoid large social gatherings. The exception might be a social gathering of artists or other creative types where we all operate on the same wavelength.
But the question, “why are artists depressed?” is too limited in my opinion. Other people may simply be misreading introversion, or the quiet type as being depressed. I can only speak for myself here when I say that I’m far from depressed (although I have had my moments). I’m quite happy and content in my own quiet little world. We’re often times a lot more thoughtful and introspective. We muse things over, considering creative possibilities. We do so quietly. But quiet doesn’t mean we’re depressed. I still get that to this day…people telling me to smile or to cheer up! This usually comes from extroverts who are loud and gregarious and much more outgoing than we are. It’s just a different personality type. What if I asked, “Why are you so loud and obnoxious?” I believe they would take as much offense to the question as us creative types.
In Regard to Mental Illness…
It is true however, that many famous artists had bouts with mental illness. Van Gogh, for example, being the poster child for artists with mental illness. It is often speculated that because we are so open to sensory input, that we have a hard time balancing things out. Keep in mind that mental illness can range from depression to schizophrenia. According to neuroscientist, Nancy Andreasen, creative people may have “a problem with filtering or gating the many stimuli that flow into the brain.”
When your brain is turned on like that all the time, it can wear on you. It’s tiring. Think about your typical work day…the drive to work, clocking in, sitting at your desk, lunch, more work, the drive home, etc. Most of your day, as in the vast majority of it, goes by without you being aware of it. Do you remember the car next to you on the freeway? Who the first person was who said ‘good morning’ to you and what they were wearing? If you had lunch with a coworker, what did they have for lunch? What song was playing while you were in the market? Do you remember the name of the cashier? Creatives can be hyper aware of all of that, all day long. Imagine hearing the muffled sounds of a jack hammer all the time. Or have someone poking you nonstop. Imagine having that much stimuli all the time. It literally wears on you. And bouts of depression would not be surprising.
I have no idea why mental disorders like schizophrenia happen or what fires off in the brains of these sufferers. But I do follow a couple schizophrenic artists on Instagram. Number one, they’re good artists. Number two, they both paint the things they see and hear caused by their disorder. It’s both fascinating and disturbing. I respect them both for having the courage to share publicly.
So why are artists depressed? The simple answer is…we’re not…usually. We are mostly just of a different personality type, that’s all. You might call us introverts. Are we sensitive people? Yes. We’re literally sensitive to all kinds of sensory input and it can be exhausting and emotionally draining, but it also what makes us good at what we do.