Monday, October 22, 2012

Cause or Effect?

Ernest Hemingway used a shotgun. David Foster Wallace used a noose of some sort. Virginia Woolf filled her overcoat pockets with rocks and walked into a river. Sylvia Plath lay down with her head in the oven and turned on the gas.

According to this wikipedia page, these famous authors  (not to mention 284 other writers) chose to end their lives prematurely through suicide. Why so many? This story in the Atlantic seems to provide some scientific background on the problem:
“When the researchers looked specifically at authors, they found that they are overrepresented among people with schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety syndrome, and substance abuse problems. Authors were also almost twice as likely to commit suicide as the general population.”
I’m not sure that statistic surprises anyone who reads it, but I think it reveals more about the virtues of writing than it does about how occupational choices affect our mental health. It’s a classic question of cause and effect: Are writers more likely to suffer from mental health woes because they’ve chosen a particularly painful career path? Or are those who suffer mental health woes more likely to choose an occupation like writing because it helps them process their thoughts, make sense of the world, and even escape from reality from time to time? I tend to think it’s the latter.

At least I hope so... because, ya know,... of this.

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