Depression, Creativity and Leadership – Part 1

This post is adapted from an article in Psychology Today and is offered up so that we may understand more the relationship between creativity and depression.

The list of historical political and military figures who appear to have suffered from depression seems to be limitless, including such luminaries as Benjamin Disraeli and William T. Sherman, later notables such as Winston Churchill, writers over the decades (Ernest Hemingway, J.K. Rowling), and modern celebrities (Jim Carrey, Eminem, Anne Hathaway).

Articles about the possible relation of depression to success in politics or the arts have taken two general views—that these people were able to overcome their depression and go on to greatness, or alternatively that something about their mood disorder aided them in the process.

Abraham Lincoln’s tendency toward what was then called “melancholy” was well known by his neighbors in New Salem, Illinois. In his mid-twenties, after a woman to whom he felt close died of typhoid, he led an isolated life, spent long periods of time alone in the woods with his gun, and wrote gloomy poetry. Though he occasionally sought merriment with his friends, he confided to one colleague that his mood was such that he dared not carry a knife.

Five years later in 1840, the young politician was so troubled that neighbors removed all the razors and sharp objects from his home. He requested help from a doctor and at one point sought pharmacologic relief with various medicines including sedatives, camphor, and mercury-based “blue mass” pills (The latter, which he later discontinued, contained roughly 100 times the modern EPA guidelines for mercury). 

Feelings of failure and doom, as well as fatigue interspersed with agitation and thoughts of death haunted him his whole life, even as he struggled with the great issues of his day, presided over the greatest crisis in the country’s history, and ultimately saved his nation (1).

In my own experiences with depression, I have also felt fatigue and agitation and some subdued fear. I have never, however, felt so much despair as to take my own life. Most often I have this overall sense of not wanting to do anything of significance even though I realize I need to do so. I just don’t care.

Abraham Lincoln, by George Peter Alexander Healy, 1969/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain
Source: Abraham Lincoln, by George Peter Alexander Healy, 1969 / Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

One article on Lincoln described three stages which he went through — fear, engagement, and transcendence — and argued that “Whatever greatness Lincoln achieved cannot be explained as a triumph over personal suffering. Rather, it must be accounted an outgrowth of the same system that produced that suffering … Lincoln didn’t do great work because he solved the problem of his melancholy; the problem of his melancholy was all the more fuel for the fire of his great work” (1).

Is there something amidst the suffering of depression that might be of positive value and lead to achievement. Let’s look at the evidence associating depression with creativity and attainment, and the argument that the ubiquity and evolutionary persistence of depression suggest that it might be useful.

Depression and creativity

The seductive notion that a depressed mood is associated with greatness goes back at least as far as Aristotle, who believed that “Great men are always of a nature originally melancholy” (2). The notion of the “neuroticgenius” plagued by anxiety and depression continues to this day. Not surprisingly, it has generated more modern studies of a possible relationship, which interestingly, when excluding bipolar disorder, have sometimes been negative.

Psychiatrist Nancy Andreasen found “a higher rate of mental illness, predominantly affective disorder, with a tendency toward the bipolar subtype” in a group of 30 writers compared to controls (3). Alternatively, a study of 40 writers, 40 musicians, and a similar number of controls found no differences in measures of mental illness and stress (4).

A 2020 study found that artists were more likely to have vulnerabilities such as tendencies toward anxiety and depressive symptoms, as well as resources such as ego-resilience and hope, compared to non-artists (5). Modern studies, then, have shown mixed results about the possible relationship of depression and creativity.

The evolutionary argument for depression

Even though many of the features of depression such as fatigue, decreased appetite, and libido would seem to have negative evolutionary value, some have argued that its ubiquity—major depression has a past-year prevalence of about seven percent of American adults—suggests some evolutionary benefits.

During my own bouts with depression, I have definitely been fatigued but my appetite has usually not waned. My erratic libido doesn’t seem to know how to act during my still-transitioning-grieving stage. While I am trying to move on from Pam’s death, my finger still seems to be on the pause button more than I would like.

According to the article, even if depression is associated with greater adaptivity, it may be that it is not depression per se, but some other unknown trait to which it is genetically linked. Or it could be that depression had some value in a past age or some specific situation that is now less applicable. In that sense it is similar to sickle cell disease in modern Western society. All in all, it should not be a foregone conclusion that the ubiquity of depression means that it has been favored by evolution.

This post has been adapted from an article in Psychology Today by Wallace Mendelson, M.D.

In part two, we’ll look at aspects of depression that have been claimed to be helpful—ruminations leading to problem-solving, and “depressive realism.” We’ll also look at possible cognitive mechanisms by which depression might help with motivation in achieving our goals. Focus will be on major depression and the clinical features of bipolar disorder.

Portions of this post are adapted from Molecules, Madness, and Malaria: How Victorian Dyes Evolved Into Modern Medicines for Mental Illness and Infectious Disease.

References

1. Shenk, J.W.: Lincoln’s great depression. The Atlantic, October 2005. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2005/10/lincolns-great-depression/304247/  Accessed 2/28/21.

2. The Famous People: Enlightening quotes by Aristotle. https://quotes.thefamouspeople.com/aristotle-116.php  Accessed 2/28/21.

3. Andreasen, N.C.: Creativity and mental illness: prevalence rates in writers and their first-degree relatives. Am. J. Psychiat. 144: 1288-1292, 1987. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3499088/ Accessed 2/28/21.

A Few Last Quotes for Awhile

Well, as with any blog post, one tends to change one’s mind once in awhile. I had planned to begin a series of posts dealing with depression, among other topics, as it pertains to creativity. As I find myself not ready to do that yet, I went back to my vault of various quotes. Since I have only enough for one more post at this point in time, that’s what I’m posting this time out. Stay tuned.

Apparently on screen I look tall, ageless, close to  omniscient-delivering jeopardy-laden warnings through gritted teeth, but when people see me on the street, they say ‘this kid is 5 foot 5, he’s got a broken nose, and looks  as foreboding as a bank teller…’ Rod Serling.

The place to start in advertising is the basic selling appeal. An appeal that fulfills some existing need in the prospect’s mind, an appeal that can be readily understood and believed. – Morris Hite, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew. Marshall McLuhan, philosopher 

I have learned that any fool can write a bad ad, but that it takes a real genius to keep his hands off a good one. Leo Burnett, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

Be brave enough to live life creatively. The creative place where no one else has ever been. – Alan Alda

It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow. – Robert H. Goddard

Creativity is the power to connect the seemingly unconnected. – William Palmer

Sometimes when I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things, I am tempted to think there are no little things.  Bruce Barton, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

It’s kind of a strange, backslapping ritual that we go through in this town where you get awards for almost everything. For surviving the day you’re going to get awards. So I can’t suggest that those things represent any pinnacle of achievement. – Serling from #Oscars #AcademyAwards

Curious, Memorable, Unsettling, Quirky, Quixotic and Quotable Quotes

My Quotes blog posts have proven quite popular and, thus, I offer up another version. I also offer up a side note to say that some future posts will cover some rather serious posts on psychological aspects of creativity and where the industry may be heading amidst the pandemic in which we still are engaged. As MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow often says, “watch this space.”

Creativity is so delicate a flower that praise tends to make it bloom while discouragement often nips it at the bud.  Alex Osborn, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

All of us who professionally use the mass media are the shapers of society. We can vulgarize that society. We can brutalize it. Or we can help lift it onto a higher level. William Bernbach, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

Stabbing little thoughts gouge my brain. Ugly, frightened thoughts. Projections of tomorrow and the next day. Twilight Zone’s “The Hitch-Hiker” by Rod Serling stars Inger Stevens

Rules are for people who don’t know what to do. Keith Reinhard, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

I don’t like closed doors. Creativity flourishes best in an environment of open doors and open minds. Keith Reinhard, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

Advertising is what you do when you can’t go see somebody. That’s all it is. Fairfax Cone, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

We don’t grow unless we take risks. Any successful company is riddled with failures. James E. Burke, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

Anyone who thinks that people can be fooled or pushed around has an inaccurate and pretty low estimate of people — and he won’t do very well in advertising. Leo Burnett, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

Most writers, you go up to them and say you’ve got an idea, they reply, ‘You do the acting, kid, and we’ll do the writing.’ Not Rod. You go up to him with a suggestion, he gets the pencil out and starts writing.  — Earl Holliman, star of Twilight Zone’s “Where is Everybody?”

Quotes From The Twilight Zone and Other Time Portals

Back again with a number of different quotes but this time, unintentionally, I’ve included several from Rod Serling. These even include a submission by his daughter, Anne. Interestingly, some reflect our current times and are not, simply, torn from a script of The Twilight Zone, though they could be quite applicable.

Offered up for contemplation and reminding, that some things never change. However, it’s still up to us to bring about that change no matter how painful and uncomfortable the process is.

Creative imagination — the lamp that lit the world — can light our lives. – Alex F. Osborn, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. – Aristotle

If your advertising goes unnoticed, everything else is academic. – William Bernbach, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

When we are too timid to risk failure, we reduce the opportunities to succeed. And we eliminate the chance to learn. – Keith Reinhard, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

A sickness known as hate. Not a virus, not a microbe, not a germ but a sickness nonetheless, highly contagious, deadly in its effects. Don’t look for it in #TheTwilightZone, look for it in a mirror. Look for it before the light goes out altogether. – Rod Serling (March 27, 1964)

Imagination leads to curiosity leads to creativity leads to innovation. In everything you write, write something that is brave enough to be hopeful. – Amanda Gorman, poet, first National Youth Poet Laureate 

Human beings must involve themselves in the anguish of other human beings. This, I submit to you, is not a political thesis at all. It is simply an expression of what I would hope might be ultimately a simple humanity for humanity’s sake. ― Rod Serling

International Creativity Week Begins and AAF-Houston is Part of it.

World Creativity & Innovation Week, April 15-21, is a worldwide community dedicated to celebrating all forms of creativity.

Creativity is what makes the world go ’round. Don’t just take my word for it – look around you: Everything is a product of creative minds thinking differently, challenging the norm, taking risks and learning from trial and error. Everything you do can be a creative act.

Since not all creative acts are deemed equal, their variety suggests a plethora of creativity exists globally. We’re here this next week to celebrate global creativity in all its forms via the WCIW web site and its partners.

WCIW inspires and enables people around the world to celebrate creativity in their own way, and share it with others through our international community and brand presence. 

WCIW’s mission is to encourage people to use new ideas, make new decisions, and take new steps towards making the world, and your place in it, better through creativity.

World Creativity & Innovation Day April 21 (WCID) was founded by Marci Segal on May 25, 2001 in Toronto, Canada. Observed six days after Leonardo da Vinci’s birthday and one day before International Mother Earth Day, #WCID is well positioned to encourage creative multidisciplinary thinking to help us achieve a sustainable future.

AAF Houston Special Webinar: Art of Rebranding, April 21, Noon, CST

Creating a brand from scratch and rebranding an existing one are two very different challenges. Rebranding can be life-changing for a business and this why it needs to be done right!

Join Trace Hallowell, Managing Partner at Tactical Magic as she shares with us the magic art of rebranding.

With Special Guest Steve Pacheco, President & CEO of the American Advertising Federation.

Variety of Quotes, Variety of Thought.

Just when you thought I had run out of quotes, I found some more. I tend to come across these every week from a variety of different sources, some of which are quite surprising as are the quotes. In any case, enjoy, and don’t be surprised when you’re surprised.

There are two kinds of men who don’t amount to much: those who can’t do what they are told and those who can do nothing else.  Cyrus H. K. Curtis, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

When you reach for the stars you may not quite get one, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud either.  Leo Burnett, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

Nothing splendid has ever been achieved except by those who dared believe that something inside of them was superior to circumstance. Bruce Barton, Advertising Hall of Fame

Creativity is so delicate a flower that praise tends to make it bloom while discouragement often nips it at the bud.  Alex Osborn, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

Good advertising is written from one person to another. When it is aimed at millions, it rarely moves anyone.  Fairfax M. Cone, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

Our job is to simplify, to tear away the unrelated, to pluck out the weeds that are smothering the product message.  William Bernbach, Advertising Hall of Fame

It is easier to tone down a wild idea than to think up a new one.  Alex Osborne, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

The ultimate obscenity is not caring, not doing something about what you feel, not feeling! Just drawing back and drawing in, becoming narcissistic. Rod Serling

Quotes: Historic and Otherwise

Here lies before you a variety of quotes from various historical people, some of whom you may know, some of whom you may not. Either way, each quote is a foundation of knowledge in and of itself. Get nurtured, my friends. Enjoy!

On taking charge of your life:

Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it. — Henry David Thoreau

It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live. — Marcus Aurelius

We simply attempt to be fearful when others are greedy and to be greedy only when others are fearful. — Warren Buffett

It is not these well-fed long-haired men that I fear, but the pale and the hungry-looking. — Julius Caesar

Knowledge is the antidote to fear. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another. –William James

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage. — Anaïs Nin

Do what you can, where you are, with what you have. — Teddy Roosevelt

When you are through changing, you are through. Bruce Barton, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

When you’re green, your growing. When you’re ripe, you rot.  Ray Kroc, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

Quotes, Quotes and More Quotes

A bit of a continuation from last week but, nevertheless, intriguing. The authors come from all walks of life and some, you’ve probably never heard of. The quotes themselves tug at your soul as if to say, “Remember!”

On persevering through adversity:

You will face many defeats in life, but never let yourself be defeated. — Maya Angelou

Nothing is impossible, the word itself says, ‘I’m possible!’ — Audrey Hepburn

You must be the change you wish to see in the world. — Gandhi

The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me. — Ayn Rand

Fall seven times and stand up eight. — Japanese proverb

On following your instinct:

Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things. — Ray Bradbury

The less effort, the faster and more powerful you will be. — Bruce Lee

Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced. — Søren Kierkegaard

The opposite of love is not hate; it’s indifference. — Elie Wiesel

We become what we think about all day long. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

quote

The Quotes Just Keep on Coming

In a continuing effort to highlight various modes of thought by different folks through the ages, the following quotes are offered up to enlighten your imagination and, perhaps, even tickle your funny bone. Then, again, maybe they’ll make you think. Enjoy!

You have to be noticed, but the art is getting noticed naturally, without screaming and without tricks. – Leo Burnett, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

The mind that opens to a new idea never returns to its original size. — Albert Einstein

No moral, no message, no prophetic tract, just a simple statement of fact: for civilization to survive, the human race has to remain civilized. Tonight’s very small exercise in logic from the Twilight Zone.

. . . And . . .

Human beings must involve themselves in the anguish of other human beings. This, I submit to you, is not a political thesis at all. It is simply an expression of what I would hope might be ultimately a simple humanity for humanity’s sake. ― Rod Serling

Inspirational quotes for folks who don’t like them:

On fighting the urge to follow the herd:

Be yourself; everyone else is already taken. — Oscar Wilde

What you think of yourself is much more important than what others think of you. — Seneca

Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world. — Lucille Ball

On finding the beauty in chaos:

If life were predictable it would cease to be life, and be without flavor. — Eleanor Roosevelt

I would rather die of passion than of boredom. — Vincent van Gogh

Life would be tragic if it weren’t funny. — Stephen Hawking

In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart. — Anne Frank

The Quotes Return. Enjoy!

Greetings and good day to ‘ya! Here’s your respite into the world of famous and sometimes infamous quotes from a variety of personalities. Any one of these could prove motivation for that ad you’re working on, tweak your imagination, inspire you or just plain bring a smile to your face.

Feel free to share!

Every advertisement should be thought of as a contribution to the complex symbol which is the brand image. – David Ogilvy, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

It is easier to tone down a wild idea than to think up a new one. – Alex Osborne, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

People are very sophisticated about advertising now. You have to entertain them. You have to present a product honestly and with a tremendous amount of pizzazz and flair, the way it’s done in a James Bond movie. But you can’t run the same ad over and over again. You have to change your approach constantly to keep on getting their attention. – Mary Wells Lawrence, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

Question everything. Learn something. Answer nothing. – Euripides

If you can’t turn yourself into your customer, you probably shouldn’t be in the ad writing business at all. – Leo Burnett, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

Never write an advertisement which you wouldn’t want your family to read. You wouldn’t tell lies to your own wife. Don’t tell them to mine.  – David Ogilvy, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution. – Albert Einstein

Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist. – Pablo Picasso

After a certain high level of technical skill is achieved, science and art tend to coalesce in esthetics, plasticity, and form. The greatest scientists are always artists as well. − Albert Einstein

Some of the biggest advertising mistakes are people who imagine they know what the problem is, or they’re not even thinking about; they’re just coming up with that brilliant idea and trying to force the problem to fit it. – Mary Wells Lawrence, member, Advertising Hall of Fame