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Study finds genetic link between creativity and schizophrenia, bipolar

Post-impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh was believed to suffer from schizophrenia, and musician Kurt Cobain was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The incidence of such conditions among creative individuals has led researchers to speculate there may be a link between creativity and psychiatric illness. Now, a new study finds this link may be partly genetic.

First study author Robert Power, of the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King's College, London in the UK, and colleagues publish their findings in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

Creativity is defined by researchers as "novel approaches requiring cognitive processes that are different from prevailing modes of thought or expression."

Such approaches are normally adopted by people who have visionary professions or hobbies, such as artists, musicians, actors, dancers and writers. But does creativity increase an individual's risk of mental illness?

Past research has found that mental illnesses - particularly bipolar disorder - are more common among people with relatives who have creative professions. However, researchers have been unable to identify the mechanisms underlying this association. For their study, Power and colleagues wanted to find out.

"For most psychiatric disorders little is known about the underlying biological pathways that lead to illness," says Power. "An idea that has gained credibility is that these disorders reflect extremes of the normal spectrum of human behavior, rather than a distinct psychiatric illness."

"By knowing which healthy behaviors, such as creativity, share their biology with psychiatric illnesses," he adds, "we gain a better understanding of the thought processes that lead a person to become ill and how the brain might be going wrong."

Creative professionals '25% more likely to carry bipolar schizophrenia gene variants.

With the help of researchers from deCODE Genetics - a biopharmaceutical company in Iceland - the team was able to analyze data for 86,292 people from Iceland's general population.

The researchers calculated genetic risk scores for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder for each individual, and they identified the creativity of each person - determined by their profession or enrollment in national artistic societies of dancers, actors, musicians, writers and visual artists.

The team found that individuals whose profession was a painter, musician, writer or dancer were 25% more likely to carry gene variants related to bipolar or schizophrenia than those in less creative jobs, such as manual laborers and farmers.

What is more, people who were a part of national artistic societies were 17% more likely to carry gene variants for bipolar or schizophrenia than individuals who were not members of these societies.

Explaining what the results mean, Power says:

"Our findings suggest that creative people may have a genetic predisposition toward thinking differently which, when combined with other harmful biological or environmental factors, could lead to mental illness."

Talking to The Guardian, study co-author Kari Stefansson, founder and CEO of deCODE, notes that the genetic factors identified in this study that increase the risk of mental illness only explain around 0.25% of the variation in a person's creativity.

This means other genetic factors may influence creative ability, or it could be influenced by a person's social environment or life experiences.

Still, Stefansson believes their finding identifying a genetic link between creativity and mental illness is an interesting one. "It means that a lot of the good things we get in life, through creativity, come at a price," he told The Guardian. "It tells me that when it comes to our biology, we have to understand that everything is in some way good and in some way bad."

In 2011, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting creative thinkers may be less honest and more likely to cheat than non-creative thinkers, possibly because they are better at devising excuses to explain their actions.

Source: Medical News Today

Why is Depression Common in People With a Chronic Illness?

People diagnosed with chronic illnesses must adjust to the demands of the illness itself, as well as to the treatments for their condition. The illness may affect a person's mobility and independence, and change the way a person lives, sees him or herself, and/or relates to others. For these reasons, a certain amount of despair and sadness is normal. In some cases, a chronic illness may actually cause depression .

Depression is one of the most common complications of chronic illness. It is estimated that up to one-third of individuals with a serious medical condition experience symptoms of depression. Depression and illness may occur together because the physical changes associated with the illness trigger the depression, the individual has a psychological reaction to the hardships posed by the illness, or simply as a coincidence.

Which Long-Term Illnesses Can Lead to Depression?

Any chronic condition can trigger depression, but the risk increases with the severity of the illness and the level of life disruption it causes. The risk of getting depression is generally 10-25% for women and 5-12% for men. However, those with chronic illnesses face a much higher risk -- between 25-33%.

Depression caused by chronic illness often aggravates the illness, especially if the illness causes pain, fatigue, or disrupts your social life. Depression can intensify pain. It causes fatigue and sluggishness that can worsen the loss of energy associated with these conditions. Depression also tends to make people withdraw into social isolation.

The rate for depression occurring with other medical illnesses is quite high:

  • Heart attack: 40-65% experience depression
  • Coronary artery disease (without heart attack): 18-20% experience depression
  • Parkinson's disease: 40% experience depression
  • Multiple sclerosis: 40% experience depression
  • Stroke: 10-27% experience depression
  • Cancer: 25% experience depression
  • Diabetes: 25% experience depression

What Are the Symptoms of Depression in People with Chronic Illness?

Patients and their family members often overlook the symptoms of depression, assuming that feeling depressed is normal for someone struggling with a serious, chronic illness. Symptoms of depression are also frequently masked by the other medical conditions, resulting in treatment for the symptoms -- but not the underlying cause of the symptoms -- the depression. It is extremely important to treat both forms of illness at the same time.

What Can Be Done to Treat Depression in People With Chronic Disease?

Treatment of depression in people with chronic disease is similar to that offered to other people with depression. Early diagnosis and treatment for depression can reduce distress, as well as the risk of complications and suicide. People who get treatment for depression that occurs at the same time as a chronic disease often experience an improvement in their overall medical condition, a better quality of life, and are more easily able to stick to their treatment plans.

If the depressive symptoms are related to the physical illness or side effects of medicine, treatment may just need to be adjusted or changed. If the depression is a separate problem, it can be treated on its own. More than 80% of people with depression can be treated successfully with medicine, psychotherapy, or a combination of both. Treatment with antidepressant drugs can start to work within a few weeks.

Tips For Coping With Chronic Illness

Depression, disability, and chronic illness form a vicious cycle. Chronic illness can bring on bouts of depression, which, in turn, can lead to a run-down physical condition that interferes with successful treatment of the chronic condition.

Following are some tips to help you better cope with a chronic illness:

  • Learn how to live with the physical effects of the illness.
  • Learn how to deal with the treatments.
  • Make sure there is clear communication with your doctors.
  • Try to maintain emotional balance to cope with negative feelings.
  • Try to maintain confidence and a positive self-image.

Get help as soon as symptoms of depression appear.