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Is mental illness prejudiced? Does it prefer intelligent people?

Posted on 01-10-16 in Cognition, Mental Health

Mental illness affects every one of all races, income and age. Mental illness begins in childhood and continues through the adolescent and adult years. For example, attention deficit hyperactive disorder, more commonly known as ADHD, and phobias are usually diagnosed in children ages 7 to 14 years old.

Psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia rarely occur before age 14, but show a marked increase in prevalence from ages 15 to 17. Schizophrenia and related disorders on the same spectrum account for approximately two‐thirds of all psychotic disorders. Schizophrenia usually is diagnosed in people 15 to 35 years of age.

Roughly half of all lifetime mental health disorders in most studies start by the mid‐teens, and three‐fourths by the mid‐20s. Mental disorders not only affect people of all ages, but also affect people of all races and people of all socioeconomic classes. Mental illness is not prejudiced, but a link has been found between a person’s IQ and the increased prevalence of mental illness in people with higher IQs.

What IQ tells us

Intelligence quotients are one way to measure how intelligent or smart someone is, but this one number does not define a person’s intelligence as the new data suggests that there are many other important aspects to intelligence besides an IQ. This is where emotional intelligence plays a major role.

Many people will argue against whether a high IQ deems a person to be intelligent while a low IQ automatically determines someone is intellectually disabled. In reality, the IQ test is a major tool in measuring intellectual functioning, which is the mental capacity for learning, reasoning and problem solving. A test score below or around 70 — or as high as 75 — indicates a limitation in intellectual functioning. So when high-functioning people with high IQ scores such as scientists, engineers, computer programmers and college professors are deemed social misfits and become diagnosed with depression, is this just a preconceived misconception or is there truth to this stereotype?

Many intelligent creators believe that their mental illness is a huge part of them and it drives their success. “My fear of life is necessary to me, as is my illness,” the artist Edvard Munch, thought to have had bipolar disorder, once wrote, according to Smithsonian magazine. “Without anxiety and illness, I am a ship without a rudder. … My sufferings are part of myself and my art. They are indistinguishable from me, and their destruction would destroy my art.”

Is there a link between IQ and mental illness?

Our society has been obsessed with finding a link between high-functioning people and mental illness since the age of Hippocrates in the fourth century B.C. We believe the mad scientists and the successful artists must have depression since they express themselves in shades of black and gray. Although there is no black and white to this dilemma, there is a study that shows high-performing teenage students who achieve straight A’s are four times more likely to develop bipolar disorder than their counterparts who perform average in academics.

One school of thought believes that highly intelligent people feel secluded because they are often socially awkward and are too busy “inside their head” and, therefore, do not have a healthy social outlet to help them cope with their problems. People with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder tend to work in more creative fields that require higher cognitive functioning, illustrating the potential link between high IQ and mental illness.

Another school of thought states that people with low intelligence, based on IQ, are more likely to be depressed. Specifically, this experimental study demonstrated that people with an IQ of 70 to 79, which is considered borderline intelligence deficiency, reported being less happy than people with an IQ of 120 to 129, which is considered highly intelligent.

The fact of the matter is that many studies have been performed to prove and disprove the idea that a high IQ is associated with mental disorders. This controversial idea sparked from thousands of years ago is still argued upon today because of the famous intelligent people such as Vincent Van Gogh and Robin Williams who struggled with mental illness while they were alive. The reality is that as a medical society, we do not have all the answers to what causes mental disorders and the more we don’t know about this field, the more our curiosity will be piqued, which will lead to more controversial theories and research experiments.

The bottom line is that mental illness and drug addiction do not discriminate against race, social economic status or intelligence. For those dealing with mental health disorders or substance abuse, help is available. Contact Sovereign Health Group for more information on our programs for behavioral health by calling our 24/7 helpline.

Written by Kristen Fuller, M.D., Sovereign Health Group writer