The Mighty Logo

Comedian Hannah Gadsby Defends Taking Antidepressants in New Netflix Special

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

If you’ve ever taken an antidepressant or other psychiatric medication, you’re more than likely familiar with the tired trope of how the medication will eliminate your personality or creativity. You’ll become a zombie, they say.

In her new Netflix stand-up special, Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby shared a time someone questioned her use of antidepressants. A man approached her after a performance and told her she shouldn’t be on medication because she’s an artist and needs to be able to “feel.” The man told her Vincent Van Gogh would never have created  “Sunflowers” if he were medicated.

Gadsby, who also has an art history degree, replied that Van Gogh was actually medicated. In fact, she told him, one of the medications Van Gogh took for epilepsy makes the color yellow appear more vivid.

“So perhaps, we have the sunflowers precisely because Van Gogh medicated,” she said.

She asked the man if he honestly thought creativity means that the artist has to suffer — that in order to be, or stay, creative, one must accept the burden of suffering.

It’s not uncommon for people to fear that medication will stifle their creativity. One Mighty contributor, Mary Sukala, wrote about her experience with creativity and bipolar disorder. While she was able to create art and had an “undying blaze” of creativity while manic, she added:

I was adjusted to the right cocktail of meds and found the right therapist, and reached my version of normalcy. When I began getting back in touch with my artsy side, I realized I still have it in me, always have, even in my healthy periods. Mania might provide a surge of ideas and the laser focus and drive to make those ideas a tangible reality. It does not, however, provide innate talent or a deep-seated passion.

For some, mental illness is what takes away their creativity or at least the drive to create something. Williesha Morris, another Mighty contributor, said anxiety and depression had snuffed out her ability to write. Psychiatrist Neel Burton wrote for Psychology Today that there is research to show a connection between creativity and bipolar disorder, but that many creative people with bipolar disorder cannot create when they are depressed or manic.

He wrote that many people with bipolar disorder can use depression as inspiration, but it’s hard to actually create when experiencing a depressive episode. The same goes for mania. He said concentration and thinking can be too disorganized to focus on one project or create something coherent.

Whether you take medication for a mental illness or not, that’s a personal decision. If you do take medication, and someone gives you unsolicited advice about how it’ll change who you are, just point to Gadsby, who is clearly doing very well for herself while also taking medication.

Photo via Facebook.

Originally published: June 26, 2018
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home