Is there a link between genius, creativity and bipolar disorder?

It must be tough having a mental health problem but does it come with some advantages? Its hard to think of any until I came across this paper in Molecular Psychiatry. It suggests that bipolar disorder is probably more common in clever people. The authors studied records of > 1 million Swedish men to test the hypothesis that creativity is associated with profound mood swings. Indeed the study found that those blessed with a high IQ are probably prone to pure bipolar disorder.

By LaurMG - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
By LaurMG – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

But is there a real link between genius and bipolar disorder. Indeed a recent suggested a common genetic linkage between genius and bipolar disorderThe Guardian gives a comprehensive analysis of this study which is worth a read.

By Christoph Bock (Max Planck Institute for Informatics) - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
By Christoph Bock (Max Planck Institute for Informatics)Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Does any creative person with bipolar disorder come to mind? Perhaps. A quick look at PubMed brought up a paper that suggested that Virginia Woolf’s creativity is linked to her bipolar disorder.

"George Charles Beresford - Virginia Woolf in 1902" by George Charles Beresford - Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.
George Charles Beresford – Virginia Woolf in 1902” by George Charles Beresford Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

How many geniuses have we cocooned in psychiatric wards I wonder. Or is Virginia Woolf in good company, roaming free and creating? This Wikipedia list of famous people with bipolar disorder would suggest so.

By United States National Institutes of Health -, Public Domain, Link
By United States National Institutes of Health –, Public Domain, Link

You may also check my other blog post on this subject titled Autism and creativity.




Will Smith and chronic traumatic encephalopathy?

"Will-smith-userbox" by Walmart Stores (Original image) - File:Will Smith 2011, 2.jpg. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Will-smith-userbox” by Walmart Stores (Original image) – File:Will Smith 2011, 2.jpg. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

No, Will Smith has not developed chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). He is however playing Nigerian-born Bennett Omalu in an upcoming film, Concussion. The Nigerian-born and trained forensic pathologist was the first to report an association between repeated head trauma and the neurodegenerative disease CTE. He relates his story in this interview.

It will be interesting to see the film portrays the great lengths the National Football League (NFL) went to discredit the hero but here is a trailer:” target=”_blank”>

And talking of Nigerian doctors and the movies, Danny Glover will be playing a part in 93 days, a film about the action of a few dedicated doctors to stop the spread of the deadly ebola virus in Nigeria, Africa’s most populated country.” target=”_blank”>

The heroine of the story is however Dr Stella Adadevoh, the brave doctor who lost her life to the virus but saved a nation. This link tells her story.

What has Ebola got to do with Neurology? I thought it was a cause of viral encephalitis but apparently not going by this statement from The Encephalitis Society

What is the value of celebrity neurology?

It is always headlines when a celebrity comes out with, or dies of, any disease. The disease often gets a boost, its profile raised high. We saw this with the ‘Jade Goody effect‘ which boosted cervical cancer screening. The same occurred with the ‘Angelina Jolie effect‘ which improved the provision of breast cancer services.

Angelina Jolie
Angelina Jolie

The celebrity effect also works in Neurology, although never as successfully as the examples above. Some single-minded neurology celebrities have tackled their diseases head-on, often by funding research. This is the case with the Michael J. Fox Foundation and Parkinson’s disease (PD).

Michael J Fox
Michael J Fox

The celebrity may support a charity on account of a family member with a condition such as JK Rowling aiding the Multiple Sclerosis Society in Scotland on behalf of her mother who had the disease; unfortunately they eventually fell out.

Most recently we learnt that Robin Williams had Lewy Body disease a variant of Parkinson’s disease, and he probably died from the hallucinations common in this disorder. Will this boost the profile Lewy body diseases? Will it improve research into its risk factors and treatment?

Robin Williams
Robin Williams

Sometimes its a celebrity event that does the trick. The ice bucket challenge raised millions for MND. The celebrity endorsements for the campaign was a boost for those fighting to eliminate the disease. And one of the best clips is of Benedict Cumberbatch-worth a look!” target=”_blank”>

But how valuable is a one-off benefit such as this? A lot it seems going by the MND Association feedback-£7m is not to be scoffed at!

On the theme of MND we see the example of a celebrity ‘endorsement’ of a different type. Stephen Hawking, the world-renowned theoretical physicist, has not been particularly bullish in his support of MND but his biopic, The Theory of Everything, has had an interesting effect;” target=”_blank”>

A grandfather made a self-diagnosis of MND after watching the film. Talk of celebrity influence!

What of naming nerve cells after celebrities? Yes indeed. Heard of the Jennifer Aniston neuron? Neuroscientists have discovered that individual nerve cells learn to recocgnise specific faces, and Jennifer’s was a face they used in their trials. A lot of good it has done for her, but a clever way for neuroscience to embed their lesson in our minds; a very good use of celebrity.

By Angela George, CC BY 3.0,
By Angela George, CC BY 3.0,

Which other celebrities with neurological diseases have raised the profile of their condition, or influenced it, in any way at all? The subject for a blog sequel!