The Psychological Connection Between Creativity & Depression Is Really Important To Understand

Amaury Salas

There’s a pretty pervasive stereotype about creatives, and it’s one that’s pretty unhelpful. The idea is that, most often, creative types are mentally unstable. They are highly emotional, illogical, and dependent on substances to get through the day — and especially a project.

There’s a reason that any stereotype exists, and it’s always because there’s an iota to truth within them.

Creative individuals are more sensitive than others — this is undeniable. But there’s a deep psychological connection in the brain that makes it so, and understanding it can help you see that you can at once pursue your creative goals without sacrificing your sanity in the process.

To put it as simply as possible, the amygdala, or the part of the brain that controls rumination, is the same part that controls creativity. To activate one process naturally activates the other.

This is why being creative likewise makes you more upset and depressed. You’re literally processing through your backlog of information and experiences in order to use them to create. The more creative you are, the more you train your brain to overthink, to identify patterns and themes and meanings that may or may not exist.

Understanding that this is happening is the first and foremost important part of reducing its impact on you. Understanding that you are going to be naturally more inclined to exit the present moment and hyper-focus on ideas that may or may not mirror reality is essential to undoing this habit.

Second, it’s crucial to realize that this is not a death knell. You are not damned to be depressed for the rest of your life because you work in a creative field. The difference, however, is that you have to be able to separate your work from the rest of your life. You have to give yourself a safe and productive space — and time limit — in which you will do your work, and then separate from it and reenter your real life.

Think of it like this: your creative work requires activating a part of the brain that puts you in a state of hyper-evaluation. If you live like this, you’ll ruin yourself. So you have to create boundaries.

I know that it’s tempting, if not instinctive, to want to work whenever inspiration strikes, whether that means spending hours or days at your desk, with little reprieve.

But not being able to separate your art from your life means that your tendency to overthink will start to bleed out over and into everything else. It’s going to color your perception of the world in a way that is not reality.

It is possible to be a creative as well as have a healthy and happy life. However, it won’t come without a little effort, and a lot of understanding about what’s really going on.