Genes, Bipolar, and Artistry

There’s a lot of information out there about genetics and bipolar disorder.  There are also articles about the ties between art or creativity and bipolar disorder.  I was poking around in the web and found some interesting information.

To start with, this article lays out a bit of the information in layman’s terms.  For the most part, it is telling us what we already know.  There is a genetic component, but it isn’t very well understood, especially how stress and other environmental factors influence it.  It is also thought to be multiple genes influencing bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder.

To get into more detail of the specifics of the polygenic traits that form or trigger these disorders, go here.  I will warn you that it a highly detailed paper on a study and I had a hard time getting through it.  I am still not sure I understood it completely.  From what I understood, they were looking at specific personality traits: N (neuroticism/negative emotionality), E (extroversion/positive emotionality), A (agreeableness), C (conscientiousness), and O (openness to experience), and how they related to BD and MDD.  They found a correlation between increased N and decreased C for those suffering from MDD.  They also found a correlation (although smaller) between N, E, O,and C.  For those that suffered from higher amounts of depression in their bipolar disorder, they had increased N and O but decreased C.  For those that suffered from higher amounts of mania, they had increased E and O but decreased C.  Now, using genome wide association (which I think means they were using widely available non-specific genetic data, but I could definitely be wrong).

The studies they used already showed a genetic connection between schizophrenia and BD.  There’s another connection between anxiety and MDD.  So what does all of this really come down to?  There is definitely a genetic component to the personality traits that make up both BD and MDD.  MDD shows a genetic trend toward emotional instability (N) and a genetic trend away from self-discipline, organization, and thoroughness (C).  BD patients can show the same traits genetically (>N and <C) with the added genetic trend toward active imagination, variety preference, and intellectual curiosity (O).  They can also show an increased association with gregariousness, activity, and seeking out stimulation (E) along side the >O and <C.

Wow.  I was trying to simplify that.  I’m not sure how well it worked, although I stayed away from statistics.  😉  But there is definite proof of a genetic connection between mental disorders, although maybe not the way we think.

Looking at the information on BD, though, I can see why so many people are associated with BD and art in all it’s forms.  Although the study above didn’t study it specifically, even they mentioned a link between schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.  Putting that together with a (possible) genetic trend toward increased intellectual curiosity, preference for variety, and an active imagination and you have scientists and artists that are far before their times.

Specifically, a student paper I found has a great idea that, coupled with the study above might show even more direct links between creativity and BD or other mental disorders.

So the next time we are feeling creative, it might not be the worst thing as long as we can keep it in the safe zone.  I wonder if they will ever do a study on those who are on medication and their creativity versus those who are uncontrolled.  That would be interesting.  I might write and paint more frequently when I am hypomanic, but it is really any better?


~ by theartistryofthebipolarbrain on March 31, 2012.

10 Responses to “Genes, Bipolar, and Artistry”

  1. I think the meds tend to styfle a lot of the creativity that goes along with BD.

    • I have the feeling that I am more the NOC than the EOC, but I don’t think I am stifled by the meds. Although I can be more productive in one shot when I am hypomanic, I spend most time depressed. And in that state, I barely function and art and writing aren’t even on my radar. So for me, less production on an individual daily basis, but more consistent production helps me a lot. I am not speaking for any other artist, though.
      You think it stifles your creativity? What do you think might help? Other than going off meds, which I never recommend unless told to by your doctor.

      • having a hypomanic state for a period of time might help me but I hardly ever get those. I’m either depressed, numb from meds or full on manic. But I was very creative before I began this rollercoaster and it seemed like the meds were what made the difference

      • Huh. I can definitely see your point of view. I do know that for the first several years I was on meds I had this issue. I finally figured out that numb was not the goal. A lot of meds will numb us out. But numb and level are two entirely different things. And it’s taken me this long to get close.
        I do hope that you can find that creative space again, though! *hugs*

      • me too!

      • BTW, I do want to make it clear that I am by no means belittling what you have said. This disorder works differently for everyone. I do hope you find your creativity again, though. I lost mine for quite a while, but now that I have it back, I feel much more myself.

  2. TAOTBM,
    See? Case in point.
    Le Clown

  3. I love your idea about the study of creativity on and off meds. Now that there are so many medication options besides lithium, I am seeing people be really creative on meds and stable. It seems to be true that BD affects a large amount of artists, poets, writers and other creative people. I have seen people create very chaotic and confusing work during an episode, and then once they are back on meds their work only improves. Have you read Kay Jamison’s book on BD and creativity? Touched With fire. It’s great!

    • Thanks!

      I haven’t read it, but I’ll have to look for it. I am currently still in the process of being stabilized on my meds, but I do think that I am getting to the point where a routine including my art and writing might just be possible. Once I get a routine set up, I think my art and writing will improve in content and actual amount.

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