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Creativity and Depression

Science and Human Dimension 2004

There has long been a notion that creativity and imagination are associated with forms of depression and even psychosis. The speakers at this symposium explored a wide-ranging approach to the topic, including literary, historical, and psychiatric perspectives. Andrew Solomon, the writer, talked on Depression and Cultural Relativism, Juliet Mitchell on Winnicott and creativity, and John Cornwell on Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Gillian Beer chaired a panel discussion in which Paul Chirico talked on John Clare, Martin Golding on Adrian Stokes, and Beate Perrey on Robert Schumann. The psychiatrist Rober Fulford chaired a panel discussion on student and academic depression, at which the speakers were Paul Walters of the MRC, Fiona Blake of Addenbrookes Hospital, and Mark Phippen of the Cambridge University Counselling Service. In association with this meeting Kay Jamison, the writer and psychiatrist based in California, gave a lecture on her personal experience of depression.

The meeting focused particularly on the way in which depression is reported in the media as well biographically and autobiographically. The consensus was that depression does not aid creativity and that a writer’s best work is done despite it.