Writers and Depression

There is supposedly a proven link between writers and depression, which doesn’t make me very happy to hear because depression/anxiety runs in my family. But it made me think of the reasons why writers might be more prone to depression than those with other hobbies.

1. Writers are “sensitive.” Not necessarily “sensitive” in that we cry at the drop of a hat, but sensitive in the fact that we notice things that others don’t. We take emotions (often painful emotions) from life and harness them with our words.

2. Writers deal with rejection. Being rejected over and over in your quest to publication can indeed be depressing. If you’re self-published, it can be distressing to see readers “reject” your book by giving it a one-star review on Amazon.

3. Writers live in their own heads. Doesn’t sound too healthy, does it? Writers spend a good part of the day in other worlds and that can tend to divorce us from reality or from logic. I know I tend to get a bit insane if I’ve been writing all day.

4. Writers spend a lot of time alone. In order to get that first draft down on paper, you have to be alone and concentrating hard. In order to edit that draft, you also have to be alone and concentrating hard. Supposedly, being alone isn’t as healthy as being with others, but in my case, that’s a little hard to believe — being with others often stresses me out.

What do you think about the link between writers and depression? Do you think you get depressed more because you’re a writer or since you became a writer?

21 thoughts on “Writers and Depression

  1. it’s an age-old debate – are we like this because we write or do we write because we’re like this? I have no idea! but there definitely is a link between mental “otherness” and being an artist (in any field).

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  2. I’d like to echo the comments above and say that as an extrovert writer, I often find the alone time necessary to write to be rather lonely and depressing. That said, the relationship between writing and depression is often a chicken and egg kind of problem. I too, like many, was drawn to write as a way of dealing with serious and unpleasant matters (which my blog, and my larger body of work, is rather full of) without resorting to violence against others or self-harm. However, the act of writing itself often intensifies the feelings because a writer puts so much focus on their own mind, which is often what drives them to write in the first place, and the process of sharing one’s thoughts and feelings opens one up to the problems of rejection and the fears that others will be harsh and judgmental for knowing what is inside. It is a difficult dilemma indeed, as I am someone who has struggled with PTSD and chronic depression from early ages.

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  3. I’ve always suffered from depression but it had no part in me becoming a writer. It does help me though, to bring the darker emotions into my stories, the anguish my characters may be experiencing, the aching solitude they feel. I find those aspects of emotion easy to write but happiness and joy I find difficult, probably because I don’t experience it.

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  4. I’m posting this comment on behalf of Richard Fireman:

    Hi. I liked your post & agree w. all of your reasons, to which I’d add a couple:
    1) somewhat akin to – well, all of them, I guess, but mostly #3 – writers are often misunderstood, or at least feel that way. This especially applies to those who write more abstract stuff, e.g., poetry and/or experimental prose (e.g., stream-of-consciousness or whatever). Think of it: you dedicate a lot of time, energy, and intensity into producing a piece of writing you find very meaningful and important, and you show it to somebody – even someone close to you, who you feel understands you – and they say “I don’t know; I just don’t get it.” Bummer.
    2) writing, unlike pictorial art or sculpture, music or dance or architecture, is abstract by nature, being composed of just words. That makes it much more insubstantial, literally impossible to “grasp.” It’s nebulous, ethereal, phantasmic stuff, not down-to-earth, nitty-gritty, “real.” In a very true sense, it’s an approximation of reality, a pointing-to-reality, not reality itself. So “getting it” makes it all the much harder, which is frustrating and hence, sometimes/often, depressing.
    3) [caveat: at the risk of projecting, LOL] so much of the stuff that people pay to read is crap. Sheer utter hogwash, poorly written, unimaginative, catering to the lowest common denominator. This goes for all fields, of course – music, art, movies, etc. – but seems even more prevalent in our chosen realm of literature. Hell, I belong to a local writers’ group (NJ) and the head of the group reads my stuff and says it’s great but do you actually think anyone’ll buy this? You’ll never get an agent for it. It’s too literary! Talk about depressing (if he’s right)…! In other words, I write too well for anyone to want to read it! Sheesh…

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  5. All true. Writers are a strange breed. While I don’t think an overwhelming majority of us are depressed, we are more likely to be depressed than non-writers. Not only for the reasons you mentioned, also because depression might force us to express ourselves through writing.

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  6. Some writers are more acute than the mainstream population.

    Whether spending a lot of time in your own space is unhealthy can be debated, as can the definition of a healthy mind.

    The judgement of the quality of writing is subjective. When added to the corporate mindset of publishing houses, it means rejection for the majority of people entering the field.

    There is quality work, even art that can move the reader, being published.

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    1. I guess my argument would then be that quality work is published, but maybe it’s just not marketed as broadly… or we don’t hear about a lot of it because people don’t pay as much attention to it. Either way, it’s sad.

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  7. “Most writers are in a state of gloom a good deal of the time; they need perpetual reassurance.” ~ John Hall Wheelock

    *Writing is not a profession, but a vocation of unhappiness.” ~ George Simenon

    “This is what I find most encouraging about the writing trades: They allow mediocre people who are patient and industrious to revise their stupidity, to edit themselves into something like intelligence. They also allow lunatics to sound saner than sane.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

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  8. I think there is a link between writers and depression, but I am not sure how that link works. For example me, did I start writing cause I was depressed or do I tend to be depressed cause I write. A case of which came first, the chicken or the egg? Or rather in this case, the writer or the depression?

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    1. That’s the main question here. I think for some people, the depression caused the writing. And for others, their writing caused their depression.

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  9. I have heard people link writing and depression – it’s a bit scary but I definitely am sensitive and a worry wart so I can see why. Like you said it can be a lonely, tough business but I think my love of writing and my publishing dream keeps me from getting too unhappy.

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  10. I think it’s a matter of feelings. Writers acknowledge their own and other people’s feelings and sometimes acknowledging feelings isn’t something people want to do as they realise the good and bad things in their life.

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