Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Friday 19 October 2012

Sometimes My Mojo is a Mo-Fo

Sometimes my mojo is a mo-fo, and sometimes I hate that, but... sometimes... Sometimes, I revel in it!
I take an interest in all sorts of mental health issues and in all kinds of psychology. I write about it. “Naming Names” is all about one form of gross criminal psychology.
With about a quarter of all adults in the first World being diagnosed with some mental health issue during their lives, every family is affected, one way or another. I read this yesterday, and I thought it was worth thinking about:
"Creativity is often part of a mental illness, with writers particularly susceptible, according to a study of more than a million people. Writers had a higher risk of anxiety and bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, unipolar depression, and substance abuse, the Swedish researchers at the Karolinska Institute found."
First, can I say that I’m not sure that substance abuse should be called a mental illness, even if some people with mental illnesses do self-medicate with all kinds of things including sex, drugs, alcohol and even rock and roll.
Now that’s out of the way, I have a couple of other thoughts on this particular subject.
  1. How useful is it to glamorise mental health problems? By which I mean that it isn’t difficult for the general public to believe that the creative professions are pretty glamorous, and once we begin to suggest that creativity is somehow synonymous with mental health problems we might be on a sticky wicket. I also wonder whether we want to suggest to young people that if they are creative they are likely to suffer from mental illness; do we really want to push creativity underground, since, believe me when I tell you that, despite increased public awareness, mental health issues still raise prejudices and still carry a stigma.
  2. Whose definitions of mental health problems are we going to adopt? Do we trust those who self-diagnose and bandy about terms like cyclothymia and manic-depression, as if they’re buzz-words. Do we take seriously people who seek attention through their non-existent panic attacks? On the other hand, do we fail to recognise the creative potential of those people who are disabled by the mental health disorders that they never seek medical help for?
A creative person’s mental health status can be as big an impediment to his success as a creator as it can be an impetus to produce work. I wrote a play when I was nine or ten years old and a novel in my teens, and, for twenty-five years after that, I was only able to finish short stories and contribute to collaborations. Since I began to medicate for my own bipolar disorder in my forties I have completed five novels with three more at various stages, and a lot more energy in me for a great deal more to come in the future.
Sometimes, my mojo is a mo-fo, and the good stuff has come to me rather late, but I still count my blessings that it’s come at all. On the whole, I wouldn’t change the who and the what I am, and I wouldn’t change my past. There are definitely days when I wish I’d had more help sooner, of course there are, but I didn’t, and I can’t change that now.
Are creative types more likely to have mental health issues? I don’t know, and I’m not sure it matters. What matters is that people with mental health issues get the treatment that is appropriate to their needs, and that they get that treatment as and when they need it. 


  1. It can't be helpful to glamourise mental illness. There may be a link between the incidence of mental illnesses and creativity, but creativity is not produced by mental illness. Scientists are also more likely to have a mental illness, but the illness doesn't help their work either. Mental illnesses like depression devastate productivity and overwhelm imagination. I would suggest anyone who is struggling with persistent low mood, anxiety or mood swings to seek treatment. And be critical of the treatment, too. It may take a bit of jiggling to get it right. My family is full of bipolar disorders of various degrees, which has proved fatal to a couple of members. My sister's natural flair for art was no compensation or help to her when she was depressed. I agree, to glamourise mental illness by linking it to creativity may prevent people seeking help. I would most disagree with the your worrying quote: 'creativity is often part of a mental illness'. No, no and no. All sorts of people get ill, including creative people. Mental illness subverts creativity and reduces output. It isn't helpful to link it with creative arts if people believe they need their illness to succeed. Thanks for raising this issue, as you can see, I feel strongly about it! Hope it is OK to vent...

    1. It is more than OK to vent. I'm never sure I'm in a good position to do it myself, and I'm always concerned by these sorts of reports and the knee-jerk reactions to them, so thank you for this; it's exactly the sort of commentary I was hoping for.