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Every suicide leaves behind mourners grasping for answers, but when the person in question is a high-profile celebrity known to have struggled with mental health issues, it's tempting to fall back on the age-old trope of the "tortured genius." It's an idea deeply embedded in our culture: the artist, musician, poet, novelist or comedian who excels in his or her field, but is tormented by inner demons. By this logic, the coexistence of creativity and mental illness is not a coincidence: The talent and the demons are thought to be inextricably linked. The torment is part of the gift.
The World Health Organization estimates there are 350 million people on the planet living with depression. And the recent death of Robin Williamshas stirred up the old question of whether creative genius carries with it an elevated risk of mental illness. "It stands to reason that some of those people are going to be creative," Harvard University's Shelley H. Carson, Ph.D., author of Your Creative Brain, told The Huffington Post. "Certainly enough to form public opinion."