If you look at television shows featuring a genius you very quickly see a pattern emerge. Hugh Laurie's TV-doctor, House, is a medical genius but struggles with severe depression as well as a messiah complex. Sherlock Holmes can solve any case, but has many addictions and may just be a sociopath. Countless TV shows, films, and books all peddle the idea that highly intelligent people are prone to mental illness.
However, the stereotype of tortured genius may now have gained some more scientific backing to it, after a new study has found that people with high IQs are more at risk of developing mental illness than the rest of the population.
The study, published in Science Direct, looked at Mensa members with an IQ of over 130 and found that “those with high intelligence are at significantly greater risk for the examined psychological disorders and physiological diseases.”
The study found that anxiety disorders were particularly prevalent amongst the 3,715 members of American Mensa they surveyed. Of these members, 20 percent had a diagnosed anxiety disorder, much higher than in the general population, where just over 10 percent are diagnosed with anxiety disorders.
The study suggested that due to increased levels of awareness experienced by people with higher IQs, they react more to stimulus from the environment, creating a hyper brain/hyper body scenario, where they display a hyperactive central nervous system.
Tiny stimuli, such as a clothing tag brushing against you or a strange sound can even "trigger a low level, chronic stress response which then activates a hyper body response,” Dr. Nicole Tetreault, co-author of the study, told Thriveworks, which could explain why people with high IQs are more likely to suffer a heightened state of anxiety.
“Unique intensities and over-excitabilities [..] can be at once both remarkable and disabling on many levels,” the authors wrote in the study. “A significant portion of these individuals are suffering on a daily basis as a result of their unique emotional and physical over-excitabilities."
The authors stressed that their study showed correlation and not causation, and called for further investigation into this at-risk sector of the population, and more focus on the mental health of people with high levels of intelligence.
"Intelligence research most often focuses on the flashes of lightning seen in this rare population, however in order to serve this group of individuals fully we must not neglect to acknowledge the rumbles of thunder that follow in the wake of their brilliance," they conclude.