The ability to create a masterpiece whilst working through one’s illness (whether that be chronic depression, or terminal illness) is something that marvels me time and time again. Yet, painters, musicians and writers of the olden days chose to create even though they suffered from depression or bipolar disorders. And so what we have been left with it are masterpieces of work which touch our souls because of the emotion that has been blended into it.  Think about the likes of  T.S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, Franz Kafka, Gustav Mahler, Sergei Rachmaninoff, J.K. Rowling, Vincent van Gogh, Virginia Woolf, Michael Angelo. All suffered from depression. Yet all of them have left us with pieces of art that will forever change us.

That’s what led me to the doors of the National Theatre in Abu Dhabi to attend a talk about ‘creating through depression’ organised by the Emirates Writers Union, a non-profit organisation founded in 1984 to raise cultural and technical level of writers.  Presented in English by Jody Ballard (owner of Strategic Wellness Systems) and translated by one of Abu Dhabi’s well-known Men of Letters, the talk presented various angles of creating through depression.   Ballard is a U.S. trained therapist and licensed clinical professional counselor who has worked as a therapist for over twenty-five years and is also an author and an artist.

Jody Ballard, therapist, writer, artist, who presented the "Create Through Depression' talk

Jody Ballard, therapist, writer, artist, who presented the “Create Through Depression’ talk. Photo Courtesy © Emirates Writers Union Abu Dhabi


There is a gene for Depression

Scientists have found that a region, not a single gene, on chromosome 3 is linked to depression if the depression is severe and is recurrent. The study was carried out by researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College, London, in collaboration with other research centers in Europe and North America and published in the American Journal of Psychiatry. As a conclusion, depression is still rather complex and seems to involve genetic and environmental factors. For those that love to delve in more technical information, you can read the news at NHS UK website.

Would we ever want to eliminate’ the depression gene if it means forever getting rid of the genuis works of art and literature in our lives?  For example, would Edvard Munch have ever painted ‘The Scream’ or would Emily Dickinson have ever written ‘There’s a certain slant of light’ if they had not suffered from depression?

 So, does depression make you more creative?

So that begs another question. “Does depression make you more creative?”  In response to this question, psychologist Dr. Shelley Carson and blogger of Life as Art, offers four theories.

– Depressed people use their depression moments to create so as to ward off anymore prolonged depressive states.

– Depression as an experience can be ‘mutated’ into creative expression depending on what the artiste wanted to create (a song,  a poem, a choreographed movement, a film, an artwork or a piece of jewelry).

– One needs to experience some sort of ‘pain’ in order to translate it into a form of art. After all, how can you paint or sing or dance if there is no emotion (highs or lows) in it.

– Last but not least (and this is related to a research study), it is the recovery from depression as opposed to depression itself that can spark a surge of creativity.

Read more on  her blog post on Depression, Creativity, and a New Pair of Shoes.