Earlier studies have revealed that adult artists exhibit
higher rates of mental illness symptoms. The present study was carried out to
see if the link between art and mental illness is established early on in life.
The study carried out by researchers at Boston College, is
the first of its kind to link music,
drama and art with symptoms of
mental illness in teens and young adults. The research analyzed the involvement
of American teenagers in extracurricular activities during the years 2002,
2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010. For this purpose they used data from the U.S.
Longitudinal Survey of Youth.
The study included 2,482 students who participated in a
survey about frequency of participation in 'lessons in music, art or drama, or
practice of music, singing, drama, drawing/painting' and 'going to sports
lessons, playing sports or practicing any physical activity' after school
hours. The answers ranged from 'often' to 'almost never.'
To analyze symptoms of depression the teens were asked how
often they experienced various mood changes, downcast mood, poor appetite,
difficulty concentrating, sadness, lack of energy or motivation and restless
Girls have been found to be artier than boys and enjoyed
their after-school music and drama. It was more than a coincidence that girls
reported higher rates of depression in comparison to boys. It also found that
boys and girls who were inclined towards arts were likely to feel more
depressed than those who were not.
According to lead author Laura Young, depression is not a prerequisite for the
young to become an artist, nor does being in the arts lead to mental illness.
The present study also reports that teens who indulged in
sports were least likely to report symptoms of depression or other mental
illness. However, there was no difference between arty teenagers who
participated in sports with those who did not, showing that an absence of
exercise was not the deciding factor.
There is no clear-cut explanation linking arts and symptoms
of mental illness. One theory is that people who are arty may be taking in a
higher than average level of information from their surroundings. Although this
cognitive trait would allow a person to have a heightened awareness of the self
and the surroundings and to be more expressive and creative, it may give way to
distress and depression. Also, introvert people are likely to take up solitary
activities and may not prefer sports.
Further research is required to find out if the
psychological vulnerabilities of these people can be transformed into positive
traits through the practice of art.
The results of the research have been published by the
American Psychological Association.