What The Star Wars Characters Can Teach Us About Mental Health
As the force reawakens in many of us with the release of the long awaited seventh instalment of the Star Wars series, a group of psychiatrists say nearly all the characters exhibit symptoms of diagnosable psychopathological conditions they are now using the films as tools to teach their students.
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Susan Hatters-Friedman, from the University of Auckland, along with Dr. Ryan Hall of the University of Central Florida, led a group of psychologists in analyzing each one of the Star Wars characters from watching all six of the films and wrote a paper about it. Here’s what they found:
Yoda, for example, was used as a way of illustrating how to approach the diagnosis of illness: is the person genuinely ill or are they simply ‘malingering’ (fabricating symptoms for some sort of gain)?
‘Is his speech pattern an affectation on purpose, or does he have a neurological disorder?’ said Dr Hatters-Friedman.
Darth Vader’s ‘classic coping mechanisms’, such as ‘splitting’ – all-or-nothing thinking – and the way he ‘projects’, or attributes his own negative feelings to others, puts him in the frame for Borderline Personality Disorder, they suggest. His background as a child-slave appears to have left him with a legacy of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as well, with repeated episodes of ‘dissociation’ occurring throughout the films.
C-3PO demonstrates traits of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder; he ‘annoys other characters with his rigidity’ and is ‘repeatedly so preoccupied with rules and protocol that dysfunction often ensues’, while Chewbacca, who ‘acts rashly and uses violence to solve his problems’ is likely suffering from Impulse Control Disorder, they said.
More straightforwardly, Jabba the Hutt’s lack of empathy and remorse and his ‘cruelty and disregard for life’ define him simply as ‘a psychopath’.
Hans Solo however is in the clear. Although the early antics of Han Solo – unable to pay his debts and in trouble with a crime lord after he dropped a shipment he was smuggling – ‘could make some trainees think of antisocial personality disorder’, his character’s growth over the course of the films means he ‘defies characterization’.
‘He’s just a guy from the wrong side of the galaxy trying to get by in difficult circumstances,’ they write.
His friend Lando Calrissian was branded with the condition ‘pathological gambling’ as he lost the Millenium Falcon to Han Solo. ‘He (Lando) continues to accept bad deals with high potential payoffs which are unlikely to be kept, despite the negative personal consequences,’ said the academics.
C-3PO demonstrates traits of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder; he ‘annoys other characters with his rigidity’ and is ‘repeatedly so preoccupied with rules and protocol that dysfunction often ensues’.
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Meanwhile Chewbacca, who ‘acts rashly and uses violence to solve his problems’ is likely suffering from Impulse Control Disorder.
Queen Amidala (Padme), who died in childbirth, ‘provides an entrée to teaching about perinatal psychiatric disorders’. ‘Padme tells us “something wonderful has happened; Annie, I’m pregnant”,’ the authors write. ‘Later, though, quite pregnant with Anakin’s twins, she “has lost the will to live”. ‘These symptoms occur right before delivery, and lead to her immediate dramatic demise.’
The subsequent behaviour of Padme’s daughter, Princess Leia, could be down to ‘histrionic personality disorder’ – characterized by excessive attention-seeking – they argue, which, like ‘Borderline Personality Disorder, is often borne out of abandonment issues’.
While it may seem odd to use film characters to teach about mental illness, the doctors claim that, far from trivialising the subject, their methods increase the likelihood that psychiatric trainees will understand and retain more information about the range of conditions that exist.
Even though they are from a galaxy far far away, they aren’t so far off some of the psychological conditions we commonly see here on earth.