We are all familiar with the stereotype of the depressed, self-destructive creative person. The portrait of an artist standing on a bridge getting ready to jump is also supported by quite a bit of research. One study found that creative types were eight to ten times more likely to be depressed or commit suicide[i]. Feel free to cite this research when you are being a moody piñata.
Some researchers speculate that it's not being creative that makes a person depressed, but being a creative person who is also prone to self-rumination, especially the negative variety (obsessive thoughts about how awesome you are have not been linked to depression). When a cow ruminates she brings her partially-digested food from a special stomach called a rumen back up to be chewed more thoroughly. When humans do it they bring up negative thoughts which they compulsively chew and mull over in the stomach of their minds. These researchers hypothesize that depression and creativity are linked by this third factor of negative self-rumination or self-focused thoughts that reoccur around a common theme.
These same researchers cite evidence that creative types are seven times more likely to have low scores on latent inhibition tasks. A person with low latent inhibition processes a lot more stimuli from the outside world than the average bear, which can lead either to greater creativity or to being overwhelmed and driven insane, depending on the day. In a nutshell, creative people take in more information and combine it in original ways, but they might also be less able to control their thoughts and subsequent moods due to this stimulation overload, leading to negative rumination.
So to recap:
Low latent imbibition + obsessive self-rumination = increased odds for a big bummerThe juiciest nugget of wisdom that comes from this study: depending on what thoughts preoccupy an individual at a given moment, this process may increase the odds for original recombinant ideation (aka original art) or increase the odds for recurrent, negative self-focused thinking (aka depressive tendencies).
As a creative person I have also noticed this dichotomy in myself. I've experienced both an obsessive focus on solving artistic conundrums (for instance, an inability to stop thinking about original Christmas card ideas) as well as the less fun flip side (negative thoughts that spiral around, down and around again). This penchant for rumination or “executive function gone wild” can lead to positive outcomes (a cleverly executed image of an anatomical human heart wearing a Christmas sweater) or negative ones (hiding under the covers binge watching Netflix).
The key for moody pinta’s is to focus and ruminate on something positive such as a creative challenge. It's best to make it something you can really dig into and obsess over, something that will give your immature, but very talented, executive brain something to do besides harass you and tell you you're not good enough, not smart enough, and that nobody likes you.
Why we sing the blues: the relation of self reflective rumination, mood and creativity. Verhaeghen, Joormann, Khan. Emotion, 2005, No. 2, 226 – 232