How ‘Star Wars’ Can Help You Understand Mental Illness
Whether they’re heroes or villains, nearly every character in the ongoing Star Wars saga demonstrates some symptoms of mental illness. This was the finding of the University of Auckland’s Susan Hatters-Friedman and the University of Central Florida’s Ryan C. W. Hall, a pair of psychiatrist-professors, who believe that the study of these movies can put students in a better position to understand the complexity of various conditions. Better yet, the engaging storytelling of this franchise ensures that students retain this newfound knowledge.
In conjunction with the release of The Force Awakens in December 2015, Hatters-Friedman and Hall published a pair of articles in the journal Academic Psychiatry: “Psychopathology in a Galaxy Far, Far Away: The Use of Star Wars’ Dark Side in Teaching” and “Teaching Psychopathology in a Galaxy Far, Far Away: The Light Side of the Force.” In honour of Bell Let’s Talk Day, we’ve investigated their findings, in order to help end the stigma behind mental illness and give Star Wars fans the knowledge they need to recognize these conditions—and respond compassionately.
With that in mind, here’s a closer look at seven key characters and their recent diagnoses.
Hatters-Friedman and Hall attribute Darth Vader’s destructive behaviour to a chain of events that started with his time spent working as a child-slave. As an adult, he became dissociative and developed many coping mechanisms, including splitting (also known as all-or-nothing thinking) and projecting, the process of attributing one’s negative feelings to others. With the right treatment, he could have saved the Empire a fortune on unnecessary wars.
Diagnosis: post-traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder.
Having lost her mother in child-birth, Princess Leia was plagued by feelings of abandonment from an early age. One of the ways she dealt with this was by seeking attention to an excessive degree, one of the core symptoms of her condition.
Diagnosis: histrionic personality disorder.
Star Wars fans might attribute C-3PO’s eccentricities to his species (he’s a robot), but many human beings share similar traits. As Hatters-Friedman and Hall explain, he “annoys other characters with his rigidity” and is “so preoccupied with rules and protocol that dysfunction often ensues.” If you know someone with these tendencies, they may be living with the same condition as C-3PO.
Diagnosis: obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.
When we meet Han Solo in A New Hope, he is going through a period of extreme irresponsibility. He drops out of school, abandons smuggled goods he was hired to deliver, recklessly kills Greedo—an unprovoked act that was made more palatable in later cuts of the film—and is generally plagued by debt. According to Hatters-Friedman and Hall, Han eventually grows out of these traits, but his diagnosis at the outset is clear.
Diagnosis: antisocial personality disorder.
Jar Jar Binks
After nearly two decades of mockery and abuse, it may be time to finally reach a more compassionate understanding of Jar Jar Binks. While his behaviour has been the source of irritation among many fans of the franchise, this can be attributed to an untreated (and previously undiagnosed) condition.
Diagnosis: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Jabba the Hutt
Let’s face it, there’s nothing especially complicated about Jabba the Hutt’s destructive behaviour. Completely lacking in empathy and remorse, his “cruelty and disregard for life” suggest an especially worrisome condition, one shared by aliens and a few unlucky humans.
The primary hero of the original Star Wars trilogy, Luke Skywalker displays a long list of symptoms that suggest prodromal schizophrenia. These include conflict with family, failure to meet obligations, strange new religious views, reckless behaviour, animal cruelty (directed at womp rats), hallucinations, and grandiose beliefs. However, as Hatters-Friedman and Hall explain, this diagnosis is undermined by the fact that Luke’s apparent delusions are real, as is the Force and his ability to save the galaxy.
On Bell Let’s Talk Day, Bell will donate more towards mental health initiatives in Canada, by contributing 5¢ for every applicable text, call, tweet, social media video view and use of our Facebook frame or Snapchat filter.