One thing that has commonly baffled researchers is why some of those who were among the world’s best and brightest were so prone to mental health issues. Making up about 2.5 percent of the United States population are those diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the affliction that affected brilliant minds such as Ernest Hemingway and Vincent Van Gogh. Past research has shown that smarter people are more likely to be mentally ill, but as to “why” there was a link remained a mystery.


In one test that was given to determine intelligence, James MacCabe sais that “We found that achieving an A grade is associated with increased risk for bipolar disorder, particularly in humanities and to a lesser extent in science subjects. These findings provide support for the hypothesis that exceptional intellectual ability is associated with bipolar disorder.”


Now, another study is backing up these claims. The study took members of Mensa with an IQ of over 130, with over 3,700 responding to the survey. What they found was that “those with high intelligence are at significantly greater risk for the examined psychological disorders and physiological diseases.” This included 20 percent of those surveyed who suffered from a diagnosed anxiety disorder, compared to the 10 percent of the general population.

One thing that the study tapped into was finding out why there was a high correlation between high intelligence and increased mental illness. Part of the reason was that those who were more creative reacted to stimulus surrounding them, causing the central nervous system become hyperactive. Any form of stimuli can “trigger a low level, chronic stress response which then activates a hyper body response,” Dr. Nicole Tetreault, a study co-author said.


“Unique intensities and over-excitabilities..can be at once both remarkable and disabling on many levels,” the study said. “A significant portion of these individuals are suffering on a daily basis as a result of their unique emotional and physical overexcitabilities.” With having two to four times the risk of mental illness, author Ruth Karpinski says “It is important for the scientific community to examine high IQ as being front and center within the system of mechanisms that may be at play in these dysregulations.”

The study concluded that “with the recent advancement of the study of intelligence using neuroimaging techniques and full-scale attempts to map the genome combined with the newer research being conducted to better understand psychoneuroimmunological processes, it is possible that we will continue to see vital growth of our understanding in this understudied area.” After all, they said that work “needs to be done to demonstrate (further) causation” instead of just correlation.


“Intelligence research most often focuses on the flashes of lightning seen in this rare population,” they added. “However in order to serve this group of individuals fully we must not neglect to acknowledge the rumbles of thunder that follow in the wake of brilliance.” Some have come up with their own conclusions as to why people with higher IQ levels are more prone to mental illness, even if the research is still young.


Certain studies have pondered that those that lack creativity are more often in a positive mood, as those good feelings don’t inhibit creativity. Tapping into these negative feelings to use your creativity and intelligence more often could lead to mental illness in the form of bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety or more. Obviously, you want to be the smartest that you can possibly be while also being happy at the same time, but it turns out it might not be that easy.

Those creative types have many quotes about this phenomenon, with Ernest Hemingway famously saying that “An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with his fools,” while Greek philosopher Seneca had said “There is no great genius without some touch of madness.” Now, we’re working on finding the science behind the truth to these quotes.