Bipolar Disorder and Creativity in Children


If you are a parent of a child who has bipolar disorder, at times you may become hopeless at the immensity of the challenges you feel your child faces .

Focus on the Strengths

Don’t despair. Your child is special and unique in many ways.

Bipolar children are often incredibly emotionally sensitive, kind, loving and empathetic.  Bipolar children frequently have incredible and rare creative talents.

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Almost all of my bipolar kids are remarkable writers, artists, actors, comedians, and musicians. Your child’s unique talent can be a great source of comfort and self esteem. Remind yourself of the special wonderful qualities your child has that might not be there if they did not have the illness.

What is the Connection Between Bipolar Disorder and Creativity?

The link between bipolar disorder and creativity is a phenomenon that has been referenced since almost the beginning of time. Many famous artists, writers and musicians have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disordered people and creative people also share much in common. They think outside of the box, are the source of new and interesting thoughts and ideas, and often march to their own drummer. Has your child ever seemed in a creative flow, where they are completely focused ? Well they share this in common with some of the greatest minds in history.

“It Runs in the Family”

We don’t understand why bipolar disorder and creativity are connected, but there does seem to be a genetic component. It is unusual to find a child who has artistic or musical talent without being able to point to another family member that has that talent. Although we don’t fully understand these connections, science shows them to be true. A recent study in 2005 showed that children of parents with bipolar disorder scored higher on a scale that measures creativity (1).

Bipolar Disorder and Creativity in Toddlers-Destructive or Creative?

In young children who are bipolar, we often see their behaviors as destructive. They may pile and stack things, cut curtains and sheets, or move furniture around. This is a manifestation of the link between bipolar disorder and creativity. If their minds were more mature, and they could and focus harnesses that energy it would appear less destructive. Perhaps instead of seeing this as destructive behavior, it would help to see it as a manifestation of their creativity.

Bipolar Disorder and Creativity in Adolescents

In adolescents, the bipolar creativity is much more distinct. One of my adolescent boys, for example, reports that words actually drop into his head. While in session he will frantically search for a pen and paper to write down a poem or story before the words disappear. This is truly amazing to witness.

"What broke that day, the heart of man

What dramatic thoughts to understand

God will sob for all those vain

And his tears will spiral down the drain

When they fall down to earth

Well call it rain"

The pain of the depression frequently sparks the link between creativity and bipolar disorder. The painting below by a teen portrays this.

Creativity as a Coping Skill

When children are depressed creativity can be a good coping skill. Especially in adolescent girls, writing is a vehicle they use to seek relief from the pain they are feeling. I work with an eighteen year old girl that will bring in a volume of journal writings when she is depressed, a clear sign to me of her mood state. These writings contain incredible verbal descriptions of pain and loneliness. Other kids will send me artwork, poems, and even movies they are compelled to create during the course of the week between our therapy sessions.

Tips for Fostering Creativity in your Child

If your child is in a regular public school setting and has traits of bipolar creativity, get them in an art or music class.

In your home, treat the class with equal importance to math or reading, because it may be that your child's future lies in that field.

Look in your community for opportunities for children to be involved in the children’s theater, choir, music lessons, art lessons, film lessons, or wherever your child's interest lies.

Challenge your own assumptions about what success is. If your child does not go the traditional route of college and a 9-5 job, do you believe they won't be successful? If so reevaluate. It is important for your child to live a life where they feel they can contribute and be successful.

Provide your child with opportunities to receive feedback on their creative works from other adults who aren’t you. The teenagers I work with are often surprised to hear positive feedback and will say something like “Mom always told me that, but other people seem to think it too.

If possible provide them with an opportunity to display their talent with other peers their age. Other creative kids will recognize your child's talent.

Don't discourage or sensor writings or art that may be disturbing to you. Children should not have to keep their thoughts and fears inside because they are too disturbing for the adults around them. Graphic representations of their pain or fear provide them with an outlet and you with an opportunity to understand what they are experiencing.

Find a therapist (and maybe a psychiatrist) who appreciates bipolar creativity and how it can be used to help your child.

Look for outside mentors in the particular area of creative expression your child is interested in.

Expose your child to the art, music, writings and other creations of people who have mood disorders. It is important that they see examples of others with their illness who have been be successful.

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    Medical information obtained from this website is not intended as a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you have a problem, you should consult a healthcare provider.