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How Star Wars is helping people to understand Mental Health issues

The link between serious mental health problems and the blockbuster movie saga that is Star Wars may not be an obvious one, but psychiatrists and devoted Star Wars fans Ryan C.W. Hall and Susan Hatters Friedman have made the connection. They’re using the film series to educate people on issues like depression, gambling addiction, schizophrenia and PTSD.

Examining Star Wars in this way adds a little entertainment to the otherwise heavy task of studying mental health conditions, and it also gives students, patients and others a visual representation of disorders that are mainly studied through theory and discussion.

If you don’t want us to change your perception of your favourite films forever, we advise you to stop reading now.

So, which Star Wars characters have been scrutinised by the pair, and which mental disorders could they be showing signs of?

Firstly, Yoda. He’s a classic case of dyslexia, with his odd speech pattern. Or, his abnormal speech and “elfin” appearance could be signs of Williams syndrome. Lando Calrissian could be a pathological gambler, having lost the Millennium Falcon to Han Solo prior to the film’s events, and going on to betray Han and Chewie after striking a deal with the Empire.

C-3PO shows traits of obsessive personality disorder, while Darth Vader shows “classic coping mechanisms of splitting, projection, and infantile illusions of omnipotence” – all symptoms of borderline personality disorder or possible PTSD. Luke Skywalker was also found to show signs of prodromal schizophrenia or adolescent depression early in the films, evolving into auditory hallucinations as he becomes a young Jedi.

While applying pop culture to very serious mental issues may seem to make light of the issues, Hall and Friedman have taken the task seriously. Their paper heavily analyses each character and their traits, and is so lengthy that it has been split into two parts – the Light Side and the Dark Side.

This is not the first time that psychiatrists have used fictional characters to educate on psychological issues – Scarlett O’Hara has been studied to educate on hysteria, while Winnie the Pooh has also come under scrutiny. Hall says that examining works of fiction is much safer for means of education than examining real people: “With movies there is limited info to draw from. It allows room for people to play a little – you can do that and no one will get harmed.”

You can read more about the study here.

Have you considered the mental health of iconic film characters before? Tell us if you can relate to any. Tweet us at @Iesohealth or post a comment on our Facebook page.

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