Creativity and Madness: A Thin Line?

Kimmel & Associates e-Letter

An Electronic Mental Health Newsletter from Joel I. Kimmel, Ph.D., P.A. & Associates

Volume 7, Number 4

Welcome to April and spring. It is the time of the year for renewal, openings, and growth. Although the weather has been hot lately, it is usually a beautiful, colorful time where people feel reenergized and look forward to the start of new and good experiences. It is National Poetry Writing Month and National Child Abuse Prevention Month and includes Easter, Passover, Tax Day, and Earth Day. We hope you find the time during this month to truly “smell the flowers” and renew yourself.

In this April E-Letter, we present information about Creativity and Madness, our Ask the Doc question relates to being unemployed, and our email of the month is about Mobile Phone etiquette. We hope you find the enclosed information helpful. As always, we appreciate your questions and feedback.

Practice News

Qualified Supervisor. Dr. Joel Kimmel has been certified by the State of Florida to supervise mental health counselors seeking supervision to meet the licensing requirements. If you or anyone you know needs a qualified supervisor to meet these requirements, contact Dr. Kimmel for further information.

Parent Education and Family Stabilization Course. We have been certified by the Department of Children and Families, State of Florida, to offer the Parent Education and Family Stabilization Course. Sometimes referred to as the Divorce Class, this 4 hour class is state mandated for divorcing parents of involved children. This course is intended to teach parents about the effects divorce has on children, to lessen the impact of difficult transitions, and to improve the ways they communicate with each other and their children. Our course is provided live and in small groups. Please contact our office at 954 755-2885 for further information.

Low cost counseling: Denise Champagne, M.S., is offering low cost counseling as a mental health intern. She is currently seeing patients and is available to take on new patients. This allows those individuals who cannot afford treatment to obtain it and allows her to get the required training. If you or someone you know is in need of counseling but just cannot afford it, please call the office and ask for Denise. All treatment provided by Denise will be reviewed and supervised by Dr. Kimmel.

Handouts from previous e-Letters can be found on our website. We invite you to read and download them if desired.


Our E-Letter this month is somewhat different and tackles the relationship between creativity and mental disorders. There are many anecdotal stories of creative individuals who have struggled with mental disorders. Vincent Van Gogh cut off his ear, suffered depression, and committed suicide. Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Ernest Hemingway,Kurt Cobain and many other creative individuals have committed suicide. John Nash, the subject of A Beautiful Mind, suffered from schizophrenia. Abraham Lincoln suffered from depression. But all these individuals have left their creative legacy for mankind.

Most researchers believe that creativity and madness have certain traits in common. Creativity is the production of something both new and valued while madness is defined as self-destructive behavior. Creative minds are often chaotic, disorganized, and defocused. They can bring together seemingly unrelated information and see patterns of connection that are not obvious to others. They can think outside the box, be unstructured, be risky, and are unconventional. They tend to seek out the novel, unusual, and complex experiences and may be seen as being eccentric.

Creative people do share characteristics that are similar to those with psychopathological disorders, particularly, those with bipolar disorder or depression. These characteristics include restlessness, expansiveness, grandiosity, emotional intensity, flight of ideas, and intense emotional sensitivity. Creative people however are organized enough to direct their energies and thought processes to create something new. Often the ability to channel their thoughts is directed by high intellect and memory. People with madness are unable to do this. Creative people often have a history of persecution, poverty, substance abuse, trauma, social alienation, and high stress which are also often found in the histories of people with mental illness. Research indicates that creative people have a higher rate of depression, bipolar disorder, substance abuse, and suicide than in the general population. But creative people tend to be more productive when in a positive mood; people with mental disorders are actually less creative.

Evidence does exist of a link between creativity and madness as there is a higher incidence of creative people among certain mental disorders than in the general population. And there are psychological risks for creative individuals as they have a higher vulnerability for mental disorders. Those living or working with creative individuals need to be aware of this and offer support and understanding to these people as well as a tolerance for more irrational or eccentric behavior. Creative people need to know how to handle mood vacillations as well as self-care strategies that may reduce destructive behaviors.

The issue of the thin line between creativity and madness has been a topic of discussion for centuries and will continue to be so. We end with an old joke regarding intelligence, creativity, and madness.

A man is driving past a mental hospital when one of the wheels falls off his car. He stops and recovers the wheel but can’t find the lug nuts to secure it back in place. Just then he notices a man sitting on the curb carefully removing small pebbles from the grass and piling them neatly on the sidewalk. “What am I going to do?” the man asks aloud. The fellow piling the pebbles looks up, and says, “Take one of the lug nuts from each of the other wheels and use them to put the wheel back on.”

The driver is amazed. “Wow!” he exclaims. “What a brilliant idea. What are you doing in a place like this?” he asks, nodding toward the mental institution.

“Well,” the man answers, “I’m crazy, not stupid.”

We offer the following information on Creativity And Madness:

There is only one difference between a madman and me.
I am not mad.
Salvador Dali

What to Know!

  • The link between madness and creativity became very popular in the 1970s but dates back to the time of Aristotle
  • Creativity is defined as the production of something both new and valued; madness is defined as self-destructive psychopathological behavior
  • Research has shown that highly creative people have higher rates of psychological disorders than the general population
  • Famous creative figures such as Beethoven, Woolf, Hemingway, Plath, Van Gogh, Newton and Schumann have been thought to have a mental disorder
  • Creativity and mental illness also tend to run in the same family lineage such as the Tennyson family
  • Historically, creative people have had problems with poverty, persecution, social alienation, substance abuse, alcoholism, and high stress; these factors also cause some types of mental disorders
  • Creativity is often the result of early traumatic experiences that may also contribute to depression, withdrawal, and suicidal behavior
  • Depression seems to be the most common symptom among creative people, along with the correlates of alcoholism and suicide
  • Creativity and madness share such common traits as heightened visual and auditory perceptions, defocused attention, flight of ideas, decreased inhibition, openness to experience, and thinking outside the box
  • Creativity and madness seem to be closely related due to the sharing of many characteristics; however, they are not identical and psychopathology actually prevents creative expression
  • Creative people are often unfocused, chaotic, and disconnected which allows them to bring together unrelated information to make a single creation
  • Creative people tend to be more unconventional and nonconformist, seek out novel and unusual experiences, and are overall eccentric
  • Research on creativity indicates that most people are creative when they are in a positive mood and mental illnesses actually decrease creativity
  • People with madness feel less inhibited and may have more powerful emotions leading to daring and bold actions which can be seen as creative
  • People with madness are confused about reality and seem unable to direct their thinking in a productive and effective manner
  • Intellect and memory appear to be the factors that distinguish creative people from people with psychopathology as creative people can channel their rapid thoughts, intense experiences, restlessness, and novel perceptions into creative expressions

What to Do!

  • If working/relating with creative individuals, be aware of the psychological risks and vulnerabilities of such talent and be supportive
  • Highly creative individuals need to know how to manage potential mood vacillations
  • Self care strategies can be beneficial for creative individuals with mental health issues
  • Seek professional help if you believe that you have destructive mental health problems

We Can Help!

Call us at (954) 755-2885 or email us at

Joel I. Kimmel, Ph.D., P.A. and Associates
5571 N. University Drive, Suite 101
Coral Springs, Florida 33067

As always, we would like to welcome new readers to our e-Letter. We hope that you find it informational and enjoyable. We invite you to share this e-Letter with others. If you have received this from a fellow reader, please send us your email address to include you on our list.

Ask the Doc

JK writes:  I am a 43 year old car mechanic who has just been laid off because there is not much service work at the dealership. I had been working there for 15 years and have had no other jobs in my life except for fixing cars. I feel devastated and don’t know what to do. Yes, I can use some time off but what do I do now? They say the economy is getting better but not for me. I have a wife and 2 small children and how will we make it? I’m angry but mostly worried and don’t feel like doing anything. We have a little savings we are living off and I do collect unemployment but I really would rather work. Any help you can give me would be appreciated.

Dr. Joel Kimmel replies: Unfortunately, you are not alone as many people find themselves out of work unexpectedly. But that may not be much consolation for you as the question remains what do you do?

One of the first things you need to look at is your emotions which may be affecting your motivation. Being angry, anxious, and worried are normal feelings although they are not pleasant. You have worked hard and long to be where you are and now you find yourself out of a job. Being angry is a typical feeling although it can get you stuck. You need to express your anger constructively and adjust to the situation.

You need to deal with not what was, but what is. You need to look forward and not get paralyzed by fear and worry. Consider what jobs you can do, even on a temporary basis. At this time in your life, is having any job better than being out of work? For many people, the answer is yes. So you may have to set your sights lower and look for any job you can work at.

It would also be a good idea to network with contacts, friends, and family members and let them know that you are looking for a job. Do not let yourself feel ashamed as you were let go not by what you did but by the economy. Realize that anxiety can demotivate you and make you want to just stay at home. But your anxiety can be overcome by planning, being active and searching for a job. Consider your skills and the kinds of jobs you can work at. Create a plan regarding several avenues to take in looking for a job and then follow through on your plan. Continue to be active and do not let yourself get stuck in your emotions.

Email of the Month

We would like to thank Robert S. for sending us the following email:

3 Best Mobile Phone Etiquette Tips and Best Practices

The Mobile Phone has become an absolute essential in the present day context. But how many of you know how to use the mobile phone without causing a nuisance to the others?

1. The ring tone and the volume
The ring tone should be a decent one to suit the environment that you are in and the volume should be at a minimal. Some of you love to have a personalized ring tone, such as songs, music and other sounds. However such ring tones should not be one which annoys and irritates other people around you. If you are a professional, working in an office/company, ensure that your ring tone is suitable to your work place and your position.

2. How to answer.
If you are at a meeting, interview, the movies, theatre, or attending a conference, keep your mobile phone on silence/vibrate mode or switch it off completely. Do not disturb the others by taking calls or answering calls during such time. If you are inside an elevator, bus or train, with strangers in a public place, or inside a restaurant or a shopping mall, make your conversations very short and speak in a soft manner so as not to let the others listen to your entire conversation. People are not interested in listening to your private conversations and it is a nuisance to them.

3. Conversations should not disturb the others.
In any manner your private conversations should be done in private. There is no need for the others to be a part of your private conversations with your loved ones.

Please continue to send us your comments, questions, and favorite emails for our e-Letter.

Till May…

The information provided in this electronic newsletter is not a substitute for professional treatment. It is the opinions of the writers and is provided solely for educational purposes. For mental health care, seek a qualified professional.

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Copyright © 2014 by Joel I. Kimmel, Ph.D., P.A. and Associates.