Why Writers Are Prone to Depression

From Everyday Health:

From “Sophie’s Choice” author William Styron to poet Sylvia Plath to J.K Rowling, the mastermind responsible for the Harry Potter series, the list of famous depressed writers — many of whom have documented it in their prose — is expansive.

Though there are no firm statistics on how many writers experience depression, researcher Kay Redfield Jamison, PhD, a psychiatry professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore and author of several books, including “Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness” and the “Artistic Temperament,” has reported that writers have depression or manic-depression more often than non-writers.

“There is some element of truth to the stereotype, but you don’t need to be depressed to write — just as you don’t need to be mad to be creative,” says Alan Manevitz, MD, a clinical psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

Understanding why writers can become depressed and taking steps to address these risks is the best way to help keep depression at bay and still honor the creative process.

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Why Do Writers Get Depressed?

Despite the long list of famous writers with depression, the link between writers and depression is not written in stone. Still, there are reasons why writers may be prone to depression, Dr. Manevitz says. For one, being familiar with misery, pain, and suffering may guide the process for some writers. Yes, writers can write about suffering even if they don’t know it intimately, but some may feel that their work will lack authenticity if they haven’t experienced the same trials and tribulations as their characters on some level.

Writing is also a solitary pursuit, says Manevitz. The lack of social interaction can set the stage for depression. “If you are isolating yourself and don’t get outside much, you are likely not exercising or getting natural light,” he says.

The writing life can also be an emotional roller coaster if you’re constantly faced with rejection from editors, agents, publishers, or even peers. “A large part of a writer’s success depends on how other people think of him or approve,” Manevitz adds.

Most writers are lone wolves, agrees David Straker, DO, an adjunct assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. You write on your own and may not interact with others, he says. You may also write late into the night or even only at night. “This can throw off sleep-wake schedules, which also may increase the chances of depression,” Dr. Straker says. Lack of sleep, exercise, natural light, and company can be a recipe for depression.

. . . .

Alexandra Styron, the youngest child of acclaimed American writer William Styron, chronicled what it was like growing up with him in her critically acclaimed memoir Reading My Father. She has a unique take on writers and depression.

“My father was depressed when he wasn’t writing,” she says. “That is to say, I think the creative urge was so strong in him and his sense of himself so tied up with his art, that when he wasn’t working well, it caused him great despair. I believe he struggled with depression all his life, but it was at his worst when he was frustrated creatively.”

Styron recalls that her dad was extremely private about his work. “He tried to keep his work life very routine, though he dreaded the desk, as most writers do, and took a long time each day to settle down,” she says. “But once he did, he was submerged and couldn’t bear interruption. As a child, I had a hard time understanding what he was up to. But now that I’m a writer, I completely get it, and empathize.”

Still, she says, “I don’t think he needed to be depressed to write. He would tell you, as would many creative people who suffer from depression, that it’s impossible to work when you’re depressed. It feels pointless. And that can be a vicious cycle.”

The propensity for depression, though, does not seem to have been passed down to Styron from her father. “I think I can say, gratefully and with some confidence, that I do not have the depression gene,” she says. “Luckily, I got my mother’s resilience. But I certainly have seen those demons and been spooked by them.”

Link to the rest at Everyday Health

2 thoughts on “Why Writers Are Prone to Depression”

  1. *raises hand* I’ve been writing since I was about 6, and was first diagnosed with depression at the same age. For me personally, it seems to be largely because the same impulse that leads me to find inspiration for stories in all the drama and trouble and complexity of the world also leads me to overanalyze, obsess over, and worry about all that stuff.

    I’m also so extremely introverted that writing being a solitary activity is a plus for me, rather than something that would render it depressing; rather, I tend to get depressed over the fact that I’ve always had to go out to school and work and interact with people and waste my time on meaningless B.S. when I’d rather be solitarily absorbed in reading, writing, and learning. (Right now I’m grateful to have a job in an “essential” industry, but it’s one that still requires me to go in to work.) The fact that I’m chronically sleep-deprived, because my natural sleep cycle is from about 4-5 a.m. to noon-ish, and I’d rather sacrifice sleep than reading/writing time, can’t help.

    And, of course, the fact that I could have written so much more by my current age if I’d been born to a wealthy and supportive family or married a wealthy man. And then there’s the state of the world itself…I can’t help but feel that depression is, in some circumstances, the more rational outlook than sunny optimism.

  2. Writing is an activity.
    Are writers prone to depression, or do people with depression tend to engage in that activity and many other activities.

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