Bipolar Disorder and the Creative Mind

Today’s post was written by Debbie Costello


First, let me say that Marybeth has done an incredible job with her website. It is professional, informative, but most importantly, it provides an open dialogue about bipolar disorder.

My story is about my son, Sean Costello, and my perspective about his battle with BD. Sean was born a beautiful, inquisitive, but very shy boy who loved to perform. At age 3 he wanted a fiddle! When he was slated to play Martin Luther King in the 3rd grade, besides the fact that he was not a typecast (very blond), I was sure that he would falter and whisper. Well, in a very integrated environment, they took the play to the High School where he received a standing ovation. The disparity between being socially comfortable and being able to transform on stage was but a precursor to his future.

Sean took up the guitar, and soon we were told that teachers had nothing they could offer him. At age 15, he won the Beale Street Blues Society competition as best performer. He was the 49th contestant of 49, most of whom had bands that had traveled and performed for some time. He played with the house band.

In time, Sean became an internationally renown blues guitarist, with a huge fan base in Europe and around the world. He was named Best New Artist in France in 2003; he had a gold record at age 19; has been nominated for numerous music awards; an original song of his is played on the official Indonesian travel site; and, The Guardian in London did a beautiful obituary. This is why I thought he was the perfect icon for Bipolar Disorder. People with bipolar who can be successful and appear together to the rest of the world.

When Sean passed, I decided that there were definitely holes in the diagnosis and treatment of bipolar disorder, especially when the affected has a creative mind. To address this issue, The Sean Costello Memorial Fund for Bipolar Research was founded. While the mission statement gives several other reasons for its inception (, it is first dedicated to researching the connection between bipolar disorder and creativity. It has long been noted that many famous creative people are/were bipolar (Patty Duke, Jackson Pollack, Kurt Cobain, Russell Brand, Mel Gibson, Macy Gray, Jane Pauley, Dick Cavett and countless others). Though the connection has been assumed, there is little research to actually prove that creative people have a higher incidence of BD or vice versa. Just this past November, we sponsored research that indicates, for the first time, that the incidence of BD is higher in the creative population (not just musicians). Along with that, they were able to look at other things like creativity and mania. The impact of these findings is significant. Until we know how BD actually affects this population, we cannot offer interventions that will work. Currently, medications often suppress the creative mind. It was found that creativity actually decreases when mania reaches an extreme. This finding may improve compliance, convincing the artist to keep their moods in balance.

Sean was not diagnosed until he was 28, the year before he died. He had been treated for depression and anxiety from age 12. No one connected the dots between his symptoms and his talent. Self-medication goes hand in hand when struggling to control moods. Sean died of an accidental overdose on the eve of his 29th birthday, after having just finished a radio interview. I am convinced he was unable to sleep. He was in treatment at the time.

One of the opportunities to impact mania with BD is our current challenge for a $50,000 grant from Pepsi for The MOJO Project, an internet and mobile based application to monitor sleep and help intervene before lack of sleep becomes dangerous. Please take a look at our website, learn about the Fund and our mission, and vote for the MOJO Project.

~~Click Here to Vote~~

One thought on “Bipolar Disorder and the Creative Mind

  1. I am sorry to hear about your son’s passing. I just listened to him on Youtube, he was truely talented. I can relate to him. I’ve played guitar for 17 years. At times it was the only thing that kept me sane. When I am manic I can come up with a ton of great riffs. When I am depressed I can’t come up with any good riffs. I will come up with more good songs during 5 hours of mania than I will in 5 years of depression. Seriously.

Thoughts? Questions? Leave your feedback here!