The Role of Other Factors

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It has been noted that there is a high incidence of alcohol abuse in creative individuals, such as artists and writers. This association may mean that alcohol intoxication (and perhaps abuse) increases creativity (perhaps by providing inspiration), that the creative lifestyle makes alcohol abuse more likely (alcoholism may be a disease of loners and individualistic individuals), or that some third factor (childhood experiences or psychosocial influences) increases the likelihood of both creativity and alcohol abuse. Regarding the first possibility, there is some research evidence indicating, for example, that alcohol intoxication does not increase creativity in average individuals. Whatever the reasons, the association of creativity and alcohol abuse does provide a possible explanation for the association between creativity and suicidal behavior because alcohol abuse has been shown clearly to be associated with the likelihood of both fatal and nonfatal suicidal behavior.

Other psychological and social factors may increase suicide risk in creative people. Stack proposed a multicausal model of occupation-related suicide risk encompassing demographic factors (e.g., gender and age of individuals usually engaged in a profession), internal occupational stress, psychiatric morbidity (i.e., the extent to which a profession may attract or retain individuals at psychiatric risk for suicide), and opportunity factors (i.e., access to means of suicide). In the case of the artistic professions, the high suicide rate seems to be related to high levels of occupational stress, especially the risk of rejection of personal products, and psychiatric morbidity, especially affective disorders. For instance, several occupational stress factors operated among American jazz musicians mentioned earlier which might have increased their vulnerability to mental health problems: racial issues, low wages, extensive touring, and the easy availability of drugs (especially heroin), alcohol and casual sex.

Sensation-seeking or the tendency to seek novel, varied, complex, and intense sensations and experiences and the willingness to take risks for the sake of such experiences is a personality trait linked to borderline and antisocial personality disorders, as well as to creativity via a preference for complexity and abstraction in art and a tendency for divergent thinking. It may also predispose creative individuals to disinhibition and thrill and adventure seeking: social drinking, experimentation with drugs, and a liking for parties, casual sex, and other risk-taking, impulsive, and self-destructive behaviors which, in extreme cases, may lead to suicide.

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