Some of the first research connecting creativity with mental illness was conducted in 1987, when Dr. Nancy Andreasen of the University of Iowa noticed a higher occurrence of bipolar disorder in study participants from the Iowa Writers Workshop than in a control group. A decade later, Dr. Arnold Ludwig of the University of Kentucky examined the relationship between mental illness and cultural influence through a retrospective study; his findings indicate that people in artistic professions are more likely to have mental illnesses than those in non-creative professions. More recently, researchers have considered links between the neurological similarities of mental illness and the creative mind. In particular, illnesses such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia appear to be focused within the frontal lobe of the brain. Aberrant activity in the frontal lobe likely to cause a person to make peculiar connections — the same types of connections often found in poetry and other forms of creative writing.
In 2002, Dr. James Kaufman of California State University in San Bernardino conducted a retrospective study of 1,629 writers that showed poets — specifically, female poets — were more likely than non-fiction writers, playwrights and fiction writers to have some type of mental illness. As such, the link between creativity and mental illness is frequently referred to as “The Sylvia Plath Effect.”
Fittingly, Plath is the first entry on our list of writers who suffered from mental illness. This list details a few authors who have ascended to greatness, but who, whether privately or publicly, also suffered from what were often debilitating mental illnesses.