Darth Vader Was Mentally Ill, Researchers Say

Maximillian Zeus, who believed himself to be the ancient Greek deity, was deemed mentally ill, considering that delusion. But the Joker, the notorious Mad Hatter of the Batman series, was not.

Although he had an extreme anti-social personality disorder, his highly planned scheming belies a knowledge of right and wrong. Were he in the real world, he would likely be put in the slammer, not in the psych ward, they said.

Broadcast Thought will speak again at this year's Comic-Con in late July, this time about the effect of trauma on the formation of comic book heroes and villains, such as Batman. The group will also continue to conduct research on the audiences to whom it speaks to gauge whether its work is actually changing perceptions of mental illness and reducing stigma.

According to preliminary data from their latest talks, it is.

Through Broadcast Thought, the doctors hope to enact what Bender called a "paradigm shift" in the way the media, be it movies, comics or television, portray mental illness.

"Our hope would be one day that writers and producers and directors say, [when dealing with a character with mental illness], 'What do you mean you didn't consult with psychiatrists'?"

Was It the Force or Just a Tough Childhood?

Still, at issue is whether Darth Vader would have really been better off in a psych ward.

Skywalker portrayed many of the traits of the disorder as a youth, but even in the world of fictional "diagnoses," the French paper may be pushing the limits of diagnosis, psychiatrists say.

"It's important to note that any person, when put in highly stressful situations, may display certain traits, such as impulsivity, which are associated with borderline personality disorder," UCLA's Bender said.

But one time period in a person's life is not enough to justify a diagnosis, especially if that is a highly stressful period early on in life.

"Teenagers are impulsive and can practice risky behavior," said Dr. Sue Varma, assistant professor of psychiatry at the N.Y.U. Langone School of Medicine.

"They are trying to find out who they are and in playing around with identities, they show characteristics similar to borderline," she said. "But this is not enough for a diagnosis. Most teens come out the other side by their 20s."

That Skywalker came out the other side a villain didn't mean he was still grappling with the identity crises of his early Jedi years, Bender noted.

Bender believes that narcissistic personality disorder might be a better diagnosis because of some of the traits, such as delusions of grandeur and an obsession with power, seen in the later three films, as well as the first three.

Although made with good intentions, the comic comparisons may have an unfortunate flip side, however.

While explaining the disorders of fictional villains may help educate the public, comparisons to loathed characters also run the risk of increasing the stigma.

"Being likened to Darth Vader can be pretty stigmatizing as well," psychiatrist Pozios said. "You have to be careful [and] responsible with how you present these comparisons. You don't want people with borderline personality disorder to be labeled 'Darth Vaders.'"

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