Creativity meets mental illness

An article popped up in my Google Alerts:

A study of the medical records of 150,000 individuals has found that the relatives of patients diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are more likely than the general public to be creative professionals such as actors, dancers, musicians, visual artists or writers.

The researchers cannot be sure whether the link is due to the shared genes of the family relatives or a shared upbringing and environment, but they suggested that it could be explained by similarities in the way the brain works in creative people and in patients with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Continue reading

Did the Germanwings pilot suffer from bipolar disorder? *TW*

Andreas Lubitz’ name started appearing in my Google Alert a few days ago with speculations on whether he was depressed, or, in fact, bipolar. But a confirmation showed up yesterday:

In the days running up to the Germanwings crash, Andreas Lubitz repeatedly logged on to his computer under the name “Skydevil” and searched for information on cockpit security, it has emerged.
Prosecutors in Dusseldorf revealed last week that the 27-year-old co-pilot had looked up suicide methods and medical conditions but now a German newspaper has claimed to reveal the exact words used.
[…] From 16 to 23 March – the day before the disaster – he repeatedly searched terms including “bipolarity”, “manic depression”, “migraines”, “impaired vision” and “acoustic trauma”, investigators with access to a tablet computer found in his apartment told the newspaper.

I can’t say I’m surprised. Experts in my Google Alerts claimed, rightfully, that a depressed person doesn’t come up with a detailed plan to die, then execute it, taking 150 people along. Most depressed people, when suicidal, either lay down on their sofa curled into fetal position, or, when a sudden boost of energy comes, harm/kill themselves immediately, without waiting for a week until the right chance comes along.

One of the possible mind states in bipolar disorder is called dysphoric mania. Essentially it means that the person afflicted suffers similarly as during depression, but has the manic energy, creativity, anger and pretty much random other symptoms of mania, like delusions of grandeur. If this was the case of Lubitz — IF, I said — what he has done becomes understandable. (Not justifiable!) A person with delusions of grandeur thinks of themselves as being on a whole different level than “normal” people; when they’re creative, they come up with elaborate plans; when they’re energetic, they put those plans into life; when depressed — see the dysphoric bit — they want to die. Putting all those together would mean — IF I am correct — that people on board of the Germanwings plane didn’t matter to the co-pilot. He wouldn’t mind them not being there at all. The only reason the captain mattered was that he had to be removed from the cockpit. IF Lubitz was in dysphoric mania, he didn’t think of himself as killer of 150, he was just finishing off his personal life story, possibly feeling proud that he is flying an Airbus at his last moments of life.

Should bipolars be allowed to be pilots? I can’t give you the easy correct answer to this question. A lot of people drink alcohol. Should they be allowed to drive? You can’t tell for sure that they will never try to drive drunk or hungover. In many countries, especially those with tight anti-abortion laws, women throw away their infants to die. Should people be forbidden from having sex?

It is an incredibly harmful things when media try to extrapolate single cases onto the whole population. Would papers all over the world be so quick to report Lubitz’ searches if he googled “Barbie dolls” and “strawberries”? I am about to start a second draft of a fictional novel I am writing, and I have been googling “suicide using medicine” and “what happens to the body in the morgue”. If I got hit by a train tomorrow, and was famous enough to warrant papers to go through my Google searches, I’d look very interesting to the media.

A great majority of people suffering from bipolar do NOT kill themselves or others, do NOT fly planes into mountains and generally live rather boring lives (especially if, like me, you follow doctors’ orders to a tee). But newspapers never report “An exclusive: John Doe, who suffers from bipolar disorder, hasn’t killed anyone today”. They never write “Jane Smith, who does NOT suffer from depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, narcissistic disorder or antisocial personality disorder, killed her husband by hitting him on the head with a frozen trout. Should we stop selling fish to mentally healthy people?”

My next plane flight is planned for July. When boarding, I will not be wondering whether my pilot: suffers from a mental illness; is drunk; high on speed; just got served divorce papers; his son committed suicide; daughter announced she’s lesbian; does his mortgage exceed the value of his house; did his favourite football team lose 6:0 last night. If you search well enough, you can find a reason any person should/could be forbidden from flying planes, driving buses or trains. I am deeply worried Lubitz’ case will take the public view on bipolar disorder ten years back. I hope and pray that what happened will not lead to a blanket “mentally ill people should not perform any public jobs” sort of “solution”. My name is Grant, I have bipolar disorder, and I am not Andreas Lubitz. And neither is any bipolar person that I know. Don’t tar us all with the same brush.

Photo: Michael Mueller, AP