Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Totally Psyched

E.E. Smith has a post over at Psychology Today about the top ten careers with high rates of depression. As you might guess, we scribes hit the list squarely at #5:

Writers, Artists, Entertainers: Those of us in this category -- so-called "creative" people -- complain of irregular income, odd hours and isolation. Depression leads some to become bipolar.

Hmmmm. On the other hand, we so-called "creative" people may be living very fulfilled lives, thanks to our ability to adapt to almost any situation and make do with what we have to reach our goals.

So which is it? Both? Neither? Equal parts of each? The writer of the depressing careers list admits to some personal experience with depression; did that factor in to putting our profession on the list? Or this other guy who thinks we're so adaptable -- can anyone really know what the creative mind is like by observation?

Such mixed signals are not uncommon. Every day is a gift, we're told. Be the change you want to see in the world. Forgive and forget. There are a million more motivational sayings for creative people floating around out there. They're nice. We want the writing life to be nice.

That said, we all know that every day is not a gift. Some days are nightmares that turn into weeks and months and years of struggle, misfortune and unhappiness. What you change may be something other people didn't want changed, and you find this out only when -- surprise -- they're running at you with torches and pitchforks. Also, how do you honestly forgive and forget the kind of stuff that requires absolution and amnesia?

Yes, the writing life -- or any creative life -- can be difficult, lonely, problematic and at times very depressing. That life can also be joyous, comforting, as easy as breathing and an endless source of delight and satisfaction. I know that I've lost enough of my writing life to misery, and what it's taught me is that I have better things to do. I have things to learn, ideas to explore, and worlds to build. I have people to love, and to entertain, and to help get through their dark times just as they've helped me get through mine.

I thought a lot about what both writers said, and I keep coming back to one thing: I have stories to tell. That's always been the center and the foundation of my writing life, and as long as I have that I know I can deal with anything else that comes along.

What do you guys think? Should writing be ranked as one of the top ten depressing professions? What other careers do you think should have made the list? Let us know in comments.


  1. It may well be among the top ten. I'm not sure if that's due to the nature of the business, or the nature of the artist.

    Ironically, I would think being a shrink might be very depressing. Distancing oneself from all the emotions, abuse, and real problems of others just can't be easy.

  2. Writing as a career may be depressing, at times - i.e. when you can't get published. But what about giving up on writing??? that would be FAR more depressing!

  3. Nobody seems to be able to say for sure how depressing writing is; I saw another list today that put it at the top! I personally don't think it's more depressing than any other career, although there *are* an awful lot of factors you can't control. The key is to work with what you can control and also, have a life outside of writing and publishing.

    I'm with you on the central importance of having stories to tell.

  4. Eh, I'm not depressed as a writer. Nursing was burning me out more than writing.

    Yes, it has it's ups and downs but what job doesn't?

    It helps, for me, I think that I've got options. I can always go back to nursing.

    Also helps that I've got things outside the writing-a great husband, three kids who drive me crazy. I don't let the writing it consume me. It's my job-not my life. I love it, but I won't let it own me. Maybe that's when it becomes depressing, when writers let it own them.

  5. Teaching! I think that should be on the list (if it is I am sorry to repeat it-too tired to click the link to the article). My husband is a public school teacher and there is so much on them. Paperwork, meetings, etc. that don't have anything to do with teaching the kids.

    On a seperate note, Lynn, how should I clean a quilt. I have had a quilt for years (about 12). I have been very careful with it and haven't washed it but made sure it was dirt free before storing it for the summer and all. My daughter got sick last night on said quilt. I spot cleaned it but I want to clean it. Would dry cleaning be okay? There is a green dry cleaner in my town. Thanks for the advice in advance. You are the only person who knows about quilts that I know.

    Have a happy holiday everyone!

  6. I consider law enforcement as a far more depressing occupation than writing. Police officers, etc. have to face the absolute worst faces of humanity _every_ day and justice cannot always be found.

    Raine, I agree. Writing may be a depressing field (although I haven't found it to be that way) because of the personalities of the people involved instead of the work itself.

  7. I think this is a chicken or egg kind of question. Are we depressed because we write or do we write because we are depressed? I tend to think that people drawn to writing are probably more pre-disposed to depression because it is both therapeutic and offers an escape from reality. I know I turned to writing as a way of coping with depression when I was still very young and didn't even know what depression was. I just knew I wasn't happy and that writing helped make that go away for awhile. I think if anything, writing helps those of us who are depressed stay more balanced. Whenever I show up to therapy and have been going through a dark time, the first question my therapist asks me is if I've been writing.

  8. The writing profession can have it's down moments, but I wouldn't call the whole thing depressing. Personally, I'm just happy to be doing what I want with my life, and even during the dark times of rejection and writer's block, I remind myself that this is my dream. How many other people get to do what they dreamed about for a living?

    I think telemarketing should've made the list. I did that off and on through college and then later when I couldn't find any other way to earn a living. I hated every day of it and was the grumpiest person ever during those times (just ask my kid), but it paid the bills.

  9. Writing is one of those careers that always offers hope. . . as long as you are sending your stuff out you always have the possibility of acceptance. That's something to look forward to : >

  10. So writers, artists, and entertainers make #5, eh? I dunno, most of these people I'VE met are pretty darn happy to me. Plus, writing has made me joyful for 18 years and has actually gotten me OUT of short periods of depression.

    Oh...and all the home care nurses (#1) I've met have always loved their jobs and would rather be where they are today with their patients than anywhere else. :)

    Every career has their downsides, but as long as you're doing what you love most, it's worth it.



  11. I call nonsense.

    First, note that E.E. Smith doesn't actually quote a study, or link to one.

    That's because he's copying this article from health.com that's essentially link bait. Note that, if you click on the link, you're taken to a landing page where you have to click on 10 more pages to get the whole list?

    Note also that the first person it quotes is "Deborah Legge, PhD, a licensed mental health counselor in Buffalo", then a clinical psychologist at Tufts University.

    No study. No statistics. Just one writer who needed to fill blog space, and another who copied him.

  12. Anonymous2:16 PM

    Writers do commit suicide a lot... There's even a book about it: Final Drafts: Famous Author Suicides. It's an interesting read, if you can handle it.

  13. I tend to think that mental illness ala depression/bipolar/schizophrenia go hand-in-hand with the creative mind, based on the number of artists and writers throughout history have had these conditions. This leads me to believe that there's some kind of connection in the human brain that enables us to see the world through different eyes, to both good and bad consequences.

    I don't know that that means writing is a depressing job, though. I've been clinically depressed for 20 year and it has nothing to do with my job. If anything, denying my talents and working in corporate or hourly jobs made me more depressed! As a writer, I've found more balance and have come to accept my strengths and weaknesses -- and make them work for me instead of against me.

  14. Actually you can come home and write after you have listened to the guy call about his airline reservation from the bathroom....complete with sound effects. What you really want to do is to ask if they washed their hands.


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