The suffering writers undergo for their art may be unnecessary as writers on Prozac can be just as creative, the author of a new study claims.
Felix Post, emeritus physician at the Bethlem Royal Infirmary and Maudsley Hospital, cites evidence that deep mental disturbance may be caused by the way writers stimulate their brains rather than the seat of their creativity.
His study in the latest British Journal of Psychiatry compares the stability of famous poets with that of novelists and playwrights - all deceased. He found the poets were more stable than other writers. Rates of alcoholism were 31 per cent in poets and 54 per cent in other writers.
Anxiety-depressive disorders were common among writers, Dr Post found. But although a predisposition to anxiety/depression could make people more likely to write, it is the mental effort that goes into verbal creativity that causes excessively high activity in their neural networks and leads to the mental disturbances seen in such creative people.
Non-poet writers thus develop more problems than poets because they tend to explore the whole range of human suffering more.
If mental disturbances are mainly a symptom rather than the source of creativity, Dr Post believes it should be possible to treat sufferers without damaging their output. "My prediction is that it won't affect it. There is anecdotal evidence that writers who take Prozac say it does not affect their productivity. The mental disturbance is a handicap."
Dr Post is searching for a younger psychiatrist to do further research. His work follows a 1994 study of 300 of history's famous men that found that writers were twice as likely as other great men to suffer from depressive disorders and alcoholism.