A new study of well-known creative writers confirms the long-held view that there is a link between "genius" and "insanity."

Eighty percent of the writers were found to have suffered at least one episode of mental illness, usually manic-depressive illness or depression alone, compared with 30 percent of a group of nonwriter professionals matched for IQ, age, sex and socio-economic status.

Although similar studies have been done in the past, this is said to be the first to have used modern diagnostic procedures. The study was also unusual in studying the parents and siblings of both groups. The writers' relatives had significantly higher rates of mental illness than did the nonwriters' relatives. This is consistent with many studies showing a familial tendency toward manic-depressive illness.

The study, done by Nancy C. Andreasen, a psychiatrist at the University of Iowa medical school who has long specialized in the study of creativity, was published in the October issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Andreasen studied 30 writers, all drawn from the visiting faculty of the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, probably the most famous creative writing program in the country. Faculty members have included Philip Roth, Kurt Vonnegut, John Irving, Robert Lowell, Flannery O'Connor and John Cheever.

Over the last 15 years Andreasen interviewed 30 of the visiting writers using a standard protocol that minimized the effect of the writers' superior verbal abilities in making their feelings sound more significant. The interview also elicited information about their relatives. Matched control subjects were similarly studied.

Andreasen said she originally was looking for a link between creativity and schizophrenia, a disease that leads to unusual perceptions that might give rise to creative ideas. Neither group contained a single schizophrenic. Depressive illnesses led two writers to kill themselves during the 15 years of the study. In addition, the writers were four times as likely to be alcoholics (30 percent versus 7 percent).

"These results do suggest that affective disorder {which includes manic-depressive illness} may produce some cultural advantages for society as a whole, in spite of the individual pain and suffering that it also causes," Andreasen wrote.