The Upside of Crazy

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“The Upside of having a mental health disorder.. could be you are a genius!” -Dr Gail Saltz

Do you ever listen to Science Friday on NPR? Host Ira Flatow never disappoints with topics ranging from A to Z! He and his guest’s discuss the farthest reaches of unknown galaxies to the uncanny geometry of subatomic particles. This past Friday listeners were treated to Dr Gail Saltz discussing her new book. The Power of Different.

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The author has an interesting view of mental health diagnosis according to the DSM V. 

What if we see mental health disorders as mental differences rather than mental disorders? I got to thinking about that. 

The world would be so much less interesting and colorful without the gifts of:

Edgar Allen Poe                                             Patty Duke

Abraham Lincoln                                           Isaac Newton

Virginia Woolf                                                Florence Nightingale

Ernest Hemingway                                        Jackson Pollack

Vincent Van Gogh                                          Kurt Cobain

Ludwig Von Beethoven                                 Leonardo Di Caprio

Charles Dickens                                             David Beckham

Robin Williams                                              Amy Winehouse

Some of these giants of history lived before we could name what they experienced. Many historians have concluded based on research, it is very likely they experienced symptoms of bipolar mood disorders or anxiety disorders such as obsessive compulsive disorder. Others listed have publicly come out of the closet about their diagnosis. It is impossible to measure the gifts we have received from them! And yet these differences can cost a person their life. Why?? The shame of judgement lies in wait...striking when a downward spiral of hopelessness and helplessness can overwhelm the will to live. We know shame keeps people from seeking the support and professional help needed to survive these differences. (disorders)

There seems to be a link between great talent and the conditions understood to be disabilities. Read this account of a gifted athlete who is diagnosed with OCD:

It is very powerful and gripping!

Think about safety critical jobs for a moment, an airline pilot, a surgeon,  an air traffic controller, nuclear power engineers. These individuals require extreme focus and attention to detail, they must notice things other people would not likely perceive, let alone see. Do we want to label that a skill or a disorder??

I think you see my point. 

Understand many mental health disorders cannot be viewed in a wholly positive way, mental illness has been the cause of much human suffering.

Yet it is interesting to reframe the conversation and recognize the gifts of those who may be different from what is “normal” in the continuum of mental health.

Do you agree with Dr Saltz when she says, “Arguably, if you removed all of those with bipolar disorder from the arts and creative fields, there would be vastly less creativity in the world. We would have no Hemingway. No Anne Sexton. No Virginia Woolf. Very possibly no Beethoven, either.”

What do you think??