Wednesday 17 October 2012

A Fine Line

View of Welshpool - Edward Dayes (1763–1804)

Our Facebook editors have linked an interesting story about creativity and mental illness here. This is always a tricky one because of course people with a mental illness can be creative - indeed there is no limit to their potential as evidenced by the success of famous artists and writers with a mental illness through the ages (see one example above and below) - but we need to be careful not to romanticise mental illness. I have previously commented on the "popularisation" of bipolar disorder here and creativity is an aspect of that.

Driving in this morning I hear John Humphrys on Radio 4 talking to the Swedish researcher who published the report and it seems that bipolar in particular is somewhat associated with people who engage in creative activities. The penny drops as I recollect how so many people I have met with bipolar talk about creating books, films, etc - not always, it has to be said, very realistically.

Those who are counselling people with a mental illness who are driven to these creative activities need to balance encouraging them on the one hand with honesty about the limitations of their skill and their prospects of being taken seriously. There is nothing more dispiriting than seeing poor quality art, poetry, music etc celebrated ecstatically in competitions, publications, and performances organised by mental health organisations, presumably on the patronising assumption that it is remarkable that somebody with a mental illness can create anything at all. For clarity I should say that there is nothing wrong with encouraging the use of art, writing, and music for therapeutic purposes - but that shouldn't include extravagant praise of the results if they are honestly not much good.

I like to think that Hafal has mainly got this right and where we have celebrated stuff created by our clients - including things I've put on this Blog - it stands a test of being worthwhile in its own right and without "allowances" being made. But it's a fine line.

The English Bridge, Shrewsbury - Edward Dayes