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For decades, researchers have suspected that genius, and insanity are entwined but the scientific evidence for a connection has been weak-until now.
Psychiatrists exploring the relationship between intelligence, and bipolar disorder found that high achievers are far more likely to suffer from maniac depression than the less intelligent.
Dr James MacCabe, of King's College London, author of the study stated, "We found that achieving an A-grade is associated with increased risk for bipolar disorder, particularly in humanities and, to a lesser extent, in science subjects.
“A-grades in Swedish and music had particularly strong associations, supporting the literature which consistently finds associations between linguistic and musical creativity and bipolar disorder."
Link between genius, and mental illness explored
Psychiatrists looking to solve the genius/madness paradox analyzed exam results of more than 7,00,000 Swedish teenagers aged 15-16, through the years 1988 to 1997.
They then compared the student’s academic achievement with hospital records showing diagnosis of bipolar disorder between the ages of 17 to31.
The researchers noted a strong association between intelligence, and mental illness. Pupils displaying excellent performance were nearly four times as likely to develop bipolar disorder as adults, compared to those with average grades.
This increased risk was consistent even after taking into account factors such as parental education, and socioeconomic status.
The links of later mental illness were strongest in those who studied music or literature, and more pronounced in males than females.
In addition, students with the lowest grades were also at a moderately increased risk of bipolar disorder. They were almost twice as likely to develop bipolar compared to those with average grades.
Some plausible explanations for the link
According to researchers, people with hypomania or mild mania, are inclined to be witty, and inventive with an "enhanced access to vocabulary, memory and other cognitive resources".
They experience strong emotional responses which may "facilitate their talent in art, literature or music".
People suffering from the ailment have exceptional stamina that enables them to concentrate for longer periods.
In conclusion Dr MacCabe said, "Although having A-grades increases your chance of bipolar disorder in later life, we should remember that the majority of people with A-grades enjoy good mental health."
The study was conducted by researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, with colleagues from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden.
The findings are published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.
Bipolar disorder or maniac depression
Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression is a serious mental disorder characterized by dramatic mood swings in patients between extreme sadness, and happiness.
They may oscillate from an elevated mood full of hyper-excitability to a depressive phase when a person feels deep despair, retardation of ideas, hopelessness, and lack of self confidence.
Bipolar disorder can run in families. It usually starts in late adolescence or early adulthood, and can be treated by a combination of medicine, and "talk therapy".