Are artists genuinely mentally ill or are they publicity hounds?
Alexandra Styron, writing in Salon, describes her father's battles with depression.
For years they perpetuated, without apology, the cliché of the gifted, hard drinking, bellicose writer that gave so much of twentieth-century literature a muscular, glamorous aura. In 1967, after the disappointing reception of his second novel, "Set This House on Fire," my father published "The Confessions of Nat Turner." It became a number one bestseller, helped fuel the tense national debate over race, and provoked another one regarding the boundaries of artistic license. "Sophie’s Choice," published in 1979, won him critical and popular success around the world. Three years later, with the release of the film adaptation starring Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline, that story also brought him an extraliterary measure of fame. Winner of the Prix de Rome, American Book Award, Pulitzer Prize, the Howells Medal from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and France's Légion d’Honneur, my father was considered one of the finest novelists of his time. He was also praised, perhaps by an even larger readership, for "Darkness Visible," his frank account of battling, in 1985, with major clinical depression. A tale of descent and recovery, the book brought tremendous hope to fellow sufferers and their families. His eloquent prose dissuaded legions of would be suicides and gave him an unlikely second act as the public face of unipolar depression.
For the CBC's The Current, Steven Page, late of The Barenaked Ladies, investigates the connection between creativity and poor mental health, in the process discussing his own battle with mental illness. Several artists are interviewed about their mental health issues but at least some of the report seems devoted to pointing out that celebrities are always watched more closely and individuals with problems will always stand out. The large numbers of artists without mental issues aren't as exciting.
One comedian offered a sentence that stood out for me. "Without my medication, my stand up act was scatter shot but with the meds I had a laser focus." All agreed that they did not need to drugged to the point of drowsiness; the proper mix of medications could remove their symptoms without significant side effects.