In today’s society, mental illness receives and bad rap. After all, for centuries, and most likely even further in the past, the notion of mental illness was seen to be a taboo subject. In times before, it was even discredited by doctors and society as a whole. The term “crazy” was the label for people who suffered in their day-to-day lives because of a chemical imbalance or an unstable upbringing. There is a notion that many people with the illness of the mind are set up for failure in life and will never make anything of themselves. Though, scientists may have now found a link between bipolar disorder and schizophrenia and the qualities of genius intellect.
Take Albert Einstein, man who never wore socks and had a quite liberal attitude towards personal hygiene. Einstein created some of the greatest theories of quantum physics that still hold true today. Maybe the theory of general relatively had its origin in an “unstable mind.” Another person to consider, Nikola Tesla. Tesla was certain that he was receiving signals from outer space and that he could communicate with aliens. As well, he had an unbelievably terrible case of germophobia and could not stand the sight of women wearing pearls. Though, he is considered by some to be one of the greatest inventors of all time. Needless to say, many of history’s greatest minds could have had their own documentary of madness.
Aristotle once said, “no great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness.” Clearly a great saying for people like Vincent Van Gogh who cut off his ear while creating some of the world’s most cherished works of art. Though, according to a new study, a link between genius and bipolar disorder and schizophrenia may, in fact, exist.
Kay Redfield Jamison, a researcher at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, stated that bipolar disorder and schizophrenia is highly frequent in people who are highly intelligent and highly creative. The theory behind this lies in a study conducted on Swedish teenagers. The study showed that the 16-year-olds in the study that were more academically gifted that others in the study were at a much higher risk of developing mental disorders, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
The study found that there is actually a “mad genius” gene that links intelligence and mental illness. Thus, one simple genetic trait could be the arbiter of a life of creativity and, unfortunately, possible despair and ridicule. According to the study, DARPP-32, the gene in question, allegedly links genius and madness. Roger Highfield, a reporter at the Telegraph, stated a certain version of DARPP-32, “enhances the ability to think.” The gene also shapes and controls nerve circuits in the brain. The gene links the striatum with the prefrontal cortex. The striatum is said to be closely involved with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. He also said that this genetic code can be found in nearly 75 percent of the population. While many people will experience advanced cognitive improvements, scientists have found that DARPP-32 can also show the onset of risks related to mental illness.
Dr. Daniel Weinberger of the U.S. National Institute for Mental Health, who has studied this gene, explained the notion revolves around the existence of a pre-existing brain impairment, like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Highfeld stated that although the DARPP-32 gene can be associated with higher than normal levels of intelligence, it can advance mind disorders. While there is no clear arbiter of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, finding DARPP-32 could give scientists more insight to discover the origin of some mental disorders and how they may have played in role in the development of some of history’s greatest geniuses.
By Alex Lemieux