Taylor Swift, Tortured Poets Department.

What Makes a 'Tortured Poet'?


Swifties, rejoice! A new Taylor Swift era has dawn. Swifts latest release, The Tortured Poets Department, tickles our curiosity as always about who the songs are about.

But, what does it mean to be a ‘tortured poet’? And what link does creativity have with mental health?


What Makes Somebody ‘Creative’?

The trope of a ‘tortured poet’ often brings to mind many famous writers such as Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf. Swift herself may even be considered a ‘tortured poet’ given that her body of work often encompasses songs of heartbreak.

Some may be led to believe that this means if one is mentally ill or in distress, one will be creative. Famous artist such as Van Gogh and Munch, have created popular correlations of ‘madness’ and creativity. Currently, there are studies exploring how certain genes linked to creativity may predispose some to a mental disorder. Contradicting these findings, there has also been research to suggest  that creativity levels drop to lower than average during severe episodes of illness.

Creativity is the result of many contributing factors, hence a mental disorder may or may not have any implications. Whatever the case is, treatment for mental illness will not cause a lack of creativity, and it is important to seek help when we require it.

Creativity As An Outlet

Creativity can, however, be a useful coping mechanism. When we create, we enter a state of ‘flow’, a nearly meditative state that has been proven to help ease symptoms of psychological distress. Additionally, this self-expression can act as a starting point for talking about mental health struggles one may be experiencing.


Florence Welch, front woman of the band Florence and the Machine, a collaborator on Swift’s new album, has been open about her anxiety, depression, addiction and eating disorder. She has spoken about how performing and writing has been helpful for her in coping with these struggles. “When I’m onstage, I feel like there’s something that comes onto the stage with me…It’s almost like when I step on stage, that thing is just there, waiting. It’s like, OK, we’re going to do this.”

Creativity does not have to be intimidating. We all do not need to become ‘tortured poets’. Sometimes, a creative habit can be just picking up a coloring book or writing in a journal daily. Whatever method you choose, the benefits are invaluable.

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