The Link Between Intelligence and Mental Health

genius and madness

High I.Q. and Mental Stability

Geniuses and highly creative people with high I.Q.s have always been linked to mental health problems such as depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.  Often we may picture a brainy computer geek who may be a programming whiz but prone to social awkwardness and withdrawals.  We admire masterpieces and learn of its gifted creators who oscillate between mania and depression.  Indeed, in the pantheon of great achievers, there are a number of personalities such as Beethoven, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Buzz Aldrin, and Jackson Pollock who have struggled with mental health issues during their lifetimes.  Even Aristotle was quoted to have said, “There is no genius without having a touch of madness. “

Some individuals with above average to superior I.Q.s commonly tend to exhibit symptoms from these three mental illnesses:  bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.  There are about 20-30 studies that support the “tortured genius syndrome,” the strong link between genius and madness.  One decade-long study on a 700,000 Swedish adolescents turned up surprising evidence, which was published in 2010.  Those teenagers that excelled in intelligence tests were four times more likely to have developed bipolar disorder.  Another study on children gifted with superior I.Q. above 130 showed that 65% of these kids had some sort of major depressive disorder.

Why is genius or superior intelligence linked to mental and emotional instability?  Brilliance instils the ability of being able to construct an inner world to fit their views and preferences.  However, when that worldview clashes with reality, it often leaves the person lost and unable to cope well.  Moreover, highly intelligent people are more sensitive to stimuli than average individuals.  Ellyn Saks, a University of Southern California mental health professor reiterates that “people with psychosis do not filter stimuli as well as others without the disorder, meaning that they’re able to ponder contradictory ideas simultaneously and gain insight into loose associations that the general unconscious brain wouldn’t even consider worthy of sending to consciousness.”

A Swedish study also found that many people diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are or have been in highly creative jobs that demand highly functioning cognitive skills and artistic cleverness in levels not usually employed by the average or normal individuals.  This is why artists seem to be functioning at a perspective so different from non-artistic or creative people.

Highly intelligent individuals have the ability to see novel patterns and innovative connections of things which the average intellect may not discern.  This ability also makes a very creative and smart individual, very vulnerable to feeling strong emotions, hallmarks of bipolar disorder.

It is however not entirely accurate to stereotype intelligent people as mentally unstable individuals.  Not all people with very high I.Q.s are unhealthy, mentally; but, there is a percentage of the gifted population that have developed depression and other major mental disorders because of their intellectual gifts.

As high I.Q. can be factor of developing mental illness, low or below average I.Q. can be contributory element as well.  Studies have also pointed out a direct correlation between low intelligence and depression.

Low I.Q. and Depression

Low I.Q. or a low intelligence quotient means lower than average cognitive abilities and problem-solving skills.  People with a 70-79 intelligence rating (below average I.Q. rating) have been surveyed by the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey in England to be generally less happy than those with average or high I.Q.  People with less than average intellectual abilities often have difficulties catching up in school, getting hired in good paying jobs, earning sufficiently for their families, and earning peer respect and regard.  Because of these inabilities, people with below average I.Q.s tend to have poor relationships, low income, scant employment opportunities, and a lot of personal frustration.  These conditions alone are enough to drive a person into clinical depression.

 

Scientists are still unsure about the precise mechanisms on how intelligence affects mental health.  Perhaps there will come a time in which formulated cures would be available to help people balance their intelligence, high or low, against their propensity to develop mental illness.  Until such time, people need to understand that people with low or high I.Q.s may carry the extra burden of ill mental health and therefore should be treated with more understanding.