Artist. Addict. Afflicted.

van gogh


Virginia Woolf. Carrie Fisher. Sinead O’Connor. Linda Hamilton. Richard Dreyfus. Spaulding Grey. Ernest Hemingway. Peter Gabriel. Abbie Hoffman. Kurt Cobain. Russell Brand. Ray Davies.  Brian Wilson. All have/had bipolar disorder.

On Monday night Mike and I rode down to the Mission to attend BAASICS.3: The Deep End- a series of lectures and performances that explored the brain in terms of creativity, mental illness and coping with brain damage.

Dr. Ketter, the chief of the Stanford Bipolar Disorder Clinic, gave a presentation of his research that looks at creativity and mood disorders. He gave a series of personality tests, and temperament tests to a group of people with bipolar disorder, a group of people with major depressive disorder, a group of people unaffected by mood disorders and a group of creative people (fine art, creative writing and design students).  He found that the group with bipolar disorder and the creative group scored similarly in many areas, whereas there was no correlation between the MDD group and the healthy controls with the other two groups.  This could explain why so many creative people have bipolar disorder, or why so many bipolar people are creative.  I asked Dr. Ketter about using the results to work backwards to find out who might be at risk for bipolar disorder, but he expressed that creativity can occur without bipolar disorder so it would not distinguish between someone being at risk for the disorder, or at risk for creativity (heck, in some cultures being creative is just as stigmatized as having mental illness.)

Well, of course I’m always looking for that early intervention angle!!

Aside: Did you know that people with Bipolar 1 have a 61% lifetime prevalence of substance use disorders-more than twice that of people with MDD and 15% higher than people with schizophrenia? And a high suicide rate- approximately 30 times the rate of the general population. That warrants some early intervention.

Dr. Viskontas of Memory and Aging Clinic presented some info on her patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia- and how sometimes creativity emerges with the onset of disease.  She presented some artwork of her patients.  At the end of her talk she pointed out that as a society we are mainly concerned about what we will lose with aging.  We should keep in mind that there may be something to gain.  I like her optimism.  And she sings opera too.



BAASICS will put the entire talk on their website at some point. (It’s not there as of 5/9/2013) I encourage you to check it out:

Link to Dr. Ketter’s study:

Dr. Viskontas website:



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