There’s no doubt being intelligent has its advantages. But many studies have also revealed a disturbing link between intelligence and depression.
Intelligence and depression is not an obvious correlation. In fact, intelligence has often been linked with positive things like educational success, good health and high-income levels.
It stands to reason that those who are intelligent will do well at school. They’ll get the better grades, bag the top jobs and earn more money. More money equals a higher standard of living. You attract a high-class mate and live in a more desirable neighbourhood. You’ll also be able to afford more of the stuff that makes us happy.
However, there appears to be a downside to intelligence and depression is one of them.
You only have to look at some of our historical geniuses to find a link between intelligence and depression.
Charles Dickens famously fell into a deep depression at the start of a new novel.
Despite being one of the world’s greatest scientists, Isaac Newton would suffer from excruciating mood swings.
Winston Churchill, described as one of the greatest leaders of all time, talked about being hounded by ‘the black dog of depression’.
The Great Emancipator, US President Abraham Lincoln, who abolished slavery, was described by friends as ‘the most depressed man they’ve ever seen’.
Ludwig van Beethoven is well known for composing some of the world’s most beautiful musical works despite being deaf. What might not be well known was that he suffered from deep bouts of depression. He constantly contemplated suicide.
We could all probably name a few more famous figures that are highly intelligent and suffer from depression.
But is there any scientific evidence to show a link between intelligence and depression?
Appropriately, Mensa got involved in the debate about a possible link. Mensa is a society that requires its members to have an IQ of 132 or over. The average IQ of the general public is 85 – 115.
Mensa conducted a study on their members. The results showed that they were more likely to suffer from serious mood disorders than the general public. Over a quarter of members who took part reported that they had been diagnosed with a mood disorder. These mood disorders included depression. Compare this to the national average of 10%. It would seem that there is a correlation between high intelligence and depression.
Mensa was not the only study to use IQ scores to identify intelligence. Psychologist Lewis Terman selected exceptionally gifted children from schools in California with IQ’s over 140. These children were forever known as the ‘termites’. Their lives are still being studied to this day.
As you would expect from highly intelligent children, many went on to achieve great things in life. In fact, one of the children wrote the famous sitcom ‘I Love Lucy’ and made millions in the process. However, not all the termites did as well. Many reported back to the study team of their depression. This was primarily because they had not lived up to their earlier promise and expectations.
Why is there a link between intelligence and depression?
Intelligent people overthink things
The Mensa team associated high intelligence with another concept called ‘overexcitability’ or OE. OE is what you’d expect, an intense reaction to a sound, sight, threat, idea, anything really. There are five types of overexcitability including intellectual.
Intellectual OE is a heightened desire to know the truth, gain knowledge and facts. Those with intellectual OE analyse and worry about situations, and need to understand the truth. You’ll find intellectual OE in the intensely curious, those with active minds who think for the sake of learning.
The intelligent person will have a tendency to overanalyse everything, to dissect the finer points, to look at every situation and then worry about it. They are more likely to replay conversations or situations over and over in their heads. Therefore they tend to worry more than those with lower IQ’s.
Intelligent people are able to verbalise their worries
High verbal intelligence is often used in IQ tests to ascertain intellect. Highly intelligent people frequently pass word puzzles and games which is a basis for many IQ tests. Being able to talk about your worries allows you to carry on analysing them.
Unfortunately, it also compounds the problem. It lets you speak out loud to others and keeps the situation going. This is not only in your head but now with others.
Intelligent people cannot admit their own flaws
Intelligent people have the verbal knowhow to criticise others whilst ignoring any flaws of their own. They typically cherry-pick information to suit their own agenda. They are highly selective in what they choose to believe as they know they are right. They won’t admit their own flaws because they constantly gather information that backs up their own beliefs.
Look at the IQs of the people who were against the MMR vaccinations. These people were spreading information based on a fraudulent paper published in the Lancet. This paper has been discredited numerous times. The anti-vaxxers were typically highly intelligent mothers who have carried out a great amount of research. However, they failed to look at the medical evidence.
Not being able to admit you are wrong can lead to all kinds of problems. This can include depression, especially for those who value other’s opinions.
How to stop the link between intelligence and depression
There is a difference between being intelligent and being wise. Wisdom comes from open-mindedness. From admitting your own flaws, being open to new ideas and suggestions. It involves leaving the past behind with no regrets.
If you are prone to talking about your problems when you feel depressed, research has shown that you should use the third person. Simply using ‘he, she, him or her’ instead of ‘I’ can help create distance. It stops bias and prejudice and allows the person to see the situation a little clearer.
At the end of the day, it might well be that intelligence and depression are linked until further research is carried out. After all, it was genius Ernest Hemingway that wrote:
“Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.”