Could high IQ be responsible for psychiatric disorders? Let’s see what science has to say…

It has generally been accepted that your level of IQ has some bearing on how physically healthy you are. This is because individuals that are healthy tend to practice certain lifestyles that require learning, knowledge and an understanding of how to better themselves.

Various studies have supported this theory. Research on long-term sick leave showed a correlation between low cognitive abilities. There has also been evidence to show that a low IQ in children can lead to obesity in adulthood.

Moreover, low IQs have been linked to a higher risk of having a stroke and other diseases. So, if we accept that having a high IQ affects our physical health, can it then affect our mental health?

History is scattered with tortured, highly intelligent men and women that had some kind of psychiatric disorders. Here are a few examples of what modern day psychiatric disorders these historical figures may be diagnosed with:

  • Ernest Hemingway – Depression
  • Van Gogh – Depression
  • Ludwig von Beethoven – Bipolar Disorder
  • Edvard Munch – Social Anxiety
  • Abraham Lincoln – Depression
  • Isaac Newton – Mood Disorder
  • Charles Darwin – Agoraphobia
  • Winston Churchill – Depression
  • Kurt Gödel – Paranoia
  • Emily Dickinson – Bipolar Disorder

As with physical health and high IQs, there are also studies that show a link between a high IQ and some form of psychiatric disorders.

Researcher James MacCabe wrote in a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

We found that achieving an A grade is associated with increased risk for bipolar disorder, particularly in humanities and to a lesser extent in science subjects. These findings provide support for the hypothesis that exceptional intellectual ability is associated with bipolar disorder.

Bipolar Disorder and High IQ

There have been many studies that show links between bipolar disorder and both high and low IQs. Scientists first thought bipolar disorder was genetic, possibly triggered by a trauma in childhood, but now there is growing evidence to support a correlation to high IQs.

One particular study in Sweden followed nearly 2,000 children from the age of 8 until their early 20s, measuring IQs and any psychiatric disorders. It found that a high IQ in childhood led to a greater risk of developing bipolar disorder in adulthood.

Typically the correlation between high IQs and A grades was highest in students studying music and arts. This would give credence to the notion of creative geniuses struggling with mental problems throughout history.

Another study in Finland found that a similar link occurred with high IQs in children and a greater risk of bipolar in adulthood, however, interestingly, this time the correlating subject was arithmetic.

The finding of an association between progressively increasing the risk of bipolar disorder and high arithmetic intellectual performance is rather surprising,

lead researcher Jari Tiihonen wrote.

The study required participants to complete a timed exam which involved a high level of mathematical skill and fast information processing. Those who scored in the top range were more likely to experience states of high focus and psychomotor activity – in other words – mania.

Social Anxiety and High IQ

Similarly, studies have shown an interesting link between social anxiety and high IQs. Research at Lakehead University showed that those with a high level of anxiety scored higher on verbal intelligence tests than those who did not suffer.

Another study at the SUNY Downstate Medical Centre in NYC found that those with severe anxiety had much higher IQs than those who did not have anxiety.

Professor Jeremy Coplan, head of research, said:

While excessive worry is generally seen as a negative trait and high intelligence as a positive one, worry may cause our species to avoid dangerous situations, regardless of how remote a possibility they may be.

In essence, worry may make people ‘take no chances,’ and such people may have higher survival rates. Thus, like intelligence, worry may confer a benefit upon the species.

Worrying about our surroundings may be an old evolutionary tool that kept the fittest alive, whilst those who did not worry were soon killed off by predators. But do we still need this tool in the 21st century? Perhaps not, but in order to carry out these actions our brains have to be intelligent enough to process the thoughts in the first place.

Phobias and High IQ

I’ve often wondered how one single incident can mark the start of a phobia in one person, and be an insignificant event in the next. The same incident can happen to two individuals, but one person will go away and analyze it time and time again, worrying if it will happen in the future, whereas the other person will just forget about it. Is this intelligent thought or simply fretting about something for too long?

The person with a high IQ will subsequently dwell on the incident, which may have caused them to be extremely frightened, whereas others with a lower IQ would dismiss it as a one-off.

In this day and age, where many of the physical threats to our existence have been eliminated, how does worrying help us in the modern world? Most of us have our physical needs met on a daily basis. We have access to food easily, we have a roof over our heads and we are warm and clothed.

This evolutionary throwback that serves to sustain the survival of the fittest, by making us hyper-alert to predators is just not needed anymore. In fact, having a panic disorder causes more stress, which in itself can be unhealthy.

Being intelligent enough to worry about a perceived yet non-existent threat appears to be contradictory at best. Some might say in these instances that ignorance really is bliss.

It would seem fitting, however, that those minds that have given us some of the greatest works of art, the most moving pieces of fiction, and have cracked the most difficult scientific questions should not be ordinary. How many times have we heard of people ‘suffering for their art?’

As Ernest Hemingway wrote: “Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.”


Do you agree with the above points? Do know any highly intelligent people with psychiatric disorders? Share your experiences in the comments below.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Ziyad Yamut

    Dear respective author
    Hope all is fine at your side.
    I liked your article , for it resembled very much my case.
    However, I was an “A”student since childhood despite the “civil” war I had witnessed in Lebanon. ( I was 10 years old in 1975, and currently I’m a 51 years old; a Lebanese male and a native of Ras Beirut district plus I’m the youngest in my family of 5 i.e. 4 brothers and 1 sister).
    Reaching high school and then university level, it was discovered I had bipolar disorder. I was subjected to many medications irresponsibly, where I was all the time feeling I was used as a testing lab with all the side effects and consequences following such annoying. intakes.
    Such practices, delayed my studies and I was so depressed not having high grades as before.
    The good thing is my disorder is controlled , and I resumed my studies as a part time student, to end graduating with a Bachelor of Arts 2 years and at the same time working as a full-time staff.
    I had some observation notes plus a mini invention that I showed to many but most made fun of, while the others were advising or negligent..Thus, I sensed jealousy and envy since childhood and until now from class and work mates including some family members and relatives. Nevertheless, I swim, walk, paint, and read; including singing in a choir as a tenor . I’m still single. The reason, 2 of my nieces were having the same disorder . Thank god one is cured and the other will stop medication when reaching puberty, Mine was discovered in my late teens; that’s why I have to take medication for life but it’s OK, and I’m coping very well .
    I liked to share my story accordingly.

  2. Stephen chiodo

    Thank you for the great article. I was discovered to have bipolar disorder when I was in my early twenties. In my younger years I was a straight A student and tested to have an IQ of 161. Looking back, I learned at a young age to self medicate. I became an addict. For many years I struggled with medication and self medication. Now that i an sober, I have taken up psychological studios in hour if helping those with the same disorder. To those out there with the same disorders, there is help. You can realize your dreams. Don’t give up on yourself.

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