Is there a link between mental illness and persons with high IQ, creativity, and talent? From the many talented, creative and expressions, thoughts and ideas from a number of celebrities, singers, sportsmen, writers’, politicians and even some of our own Singaporeans, yes it does point to that.
More than 30 studies have linked higher intelligence to mental health disorders including major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other mental disorders.
Affecting some 2.5 percent of the U.S. population, bipolar disorder or major depression alone, has touched many of our greatest achievers, including Vincent Van Gogh, Buzz Aldrin, Emily Dickinson, Ernest Hemingway, and Jackson Pollock – just to name a few.
Some of the celebrities that had to come to terms with mental disorders include TV host Ellen DeGeneres, Lady Gaga, Jim Carrey, Brad Pitt and his ex-wife Angelina Jolie.
DeGeneres was reported to go into deep depression after her show on ABC got cancelled way back in 1998 while Lady Gaga revealed her difficulties in dealing with depression and how she eventually learned to overcome it.
Hollywood megastar Angelina Jolie slipped into a depression in 2008 after tragedy struck in her family while equally big movie star Pitt felt depressed early on in his acting career, and attributes a trip to Casablanca to helping him overcome his depression.
But the plus of facing all these adversities is that they all have the tenacity to bounce back and rebuild their lives.
Mental illness and high grades in education
Other research supporting a link between intelligence and mental health problems shows bipolar disorder may be four times as common among young adults who’d earned straight-As in school.
I am not surprised that the correlation between A grades and bipolar disorder was strongest among students excelling in music and language, supporting popular notions about writers and artists with regard to mental health.
Indeed, persons trying to cope with mental disorders are highly intelligent people and given the right opportunities without discrimination, they can soar to greater heights. They are perfectionists and will not accept slip-shop work.
A professional lady who is also very intelligent told me recently that my late wife, Doris who battled schizophrenia for 44 years was a smart and creative person. That is so true as she not only produced 8 successful books but was so meticulous in whatever she did. In proofreading all my books, she could spot a missed comma a mile way.
The professional who knew I battled depression for some time in 1995, encouraged me to continue with my writing, speaking engagements and advocacy work as she told me I have the ability to express myself very clearly, can foresee problems coming on-stream and come up with constructive ideas that can make Singapore a better place to live in.
Take proactive measures to comfort and counsel students who fail or do not do that well in examinations
We have in our midst some brilliant students who study in some of our top schools and often peer or parental pressure pushes the students to overstretch themselves. But when they do not do as well as they expect, such as when they score 4 A’s instead of 5, the results can pull them down and they can get depressed, wrongly believing that they are ‘not good enough’.
On the other extreme end, there are students who try very hard to score well in exams, but fail and when the results are made known, it pulls them down so badly that some turn to suicide as they believe that they cannot succeed in life.
In October 2016, a State Coroner’s inquiry revealed that after an 11-year-old boy failed his exams, he believed – in his troubled state of mind, that he had disappointed his parents. The student then jumped 17 floors from his bedroom window and died. “11-year-old boy’s suicide due to exam and parental stress: State Coroner”
The Ministry of Education (MOE) has to be proactive and come up with measures to prevent a recurrence of such tragedies. We need thinkers in the civil service to tackle problems. MOE needs to have a helicopter view of challenges which students will face when they fail to make the grade.
Here’s what I propose:
For a start, there is no need to highlight and publicize the high achievers to the whole school when the exam results are out, because those who fail or do not score as well as they expect to, will be demoralized when the successful ones outshine them.
The high achievers can be recognized privately in a separate meeting with the Principal.
The demand for school counselors will have to go up if we hope to help students cope with the education system which is of very high standards.
Next, given that the school will have the results known from MOE well in advanced, it is best to group those who have not passed the exams to be counselled and comforted by the Principal, teachers and counsellors with the key message that it is perfectly ok to fail as there will always be opportunities to excel with the support of the school. Parents of these students can be included in these sessions which can be held fortnightly until the situation becomes stable.
Students who pass, but are disappointed that they did not do as well as they ought to, could also have similar separate sessions, with parents tagging along.
RAYMOND ANTHONY FERNANDO