In a brazen act of arm-chair diagnosis, Eric Bui and colleagues at Toulouse University Hospital in France have written a short academic article arguing that the Star Wars character Darth Vader probably meets the diagnostic criteria for borderline personality disorder (BPD). The authors point to Anakin Skywalker’s (as he was originally known) life history, including fatherly absence, early maternal separation and infantile illusions of omnipotence. They go on to claim that Skywalker meets six of the formal nine DSM (diagnostic and statistical manual) criteria for BPD:
‘He presented impulsivity and difficulty controlling his anger and alternated between idealisation and devaluation (of his Jedi mentors). Permanently afraid of losing his wife, he made frantic efforts to avoid her abandonment and went as far as betraying his former Jedi companions. He also experienced two dissociative episodes secondary to stressful events. One occurred after his mother’s death, when he exterminated a whole tribe of Tuskan people, while the other one took place just after he turned to the dark side. He slaughtered all the Jedi younglings before voicing paranoid thoughts concerning his former mentor and his wife. Finally, the films depicted his quest to find himself, and his uncertainties about who he was. Turning to the dark side and changing his name could be interpreted as a sign of identity disturbance.’
Does this matter? Bui and his colleagues argue that Skywalker’s condition could help explain the appeal of the Star Wars films to teenagers – an age group they say presents ‘more frequent BPD traits than adults’. They also suggest that promoting recognition that such a famous fictional character meets the criteria for a BPD diagnosis could help combat the stigma associated with mental illness. ‘Finally,’ they write, ‘as [the Star Wars films are] part of most students’ cultural background, this case study could prove useful in teaching the criteria of BPD to medical students and residents.’
Bui first made these claims at a psychiatric conference in 2007. Digest readers seeking a more scholarly consideration of the borderline personality disorder diagnosis could try the journal Personality and Mental Health’s special issue published last year [pdf of editorial].
Bui, E., Rodgers, R., Chabrol, H., Birmes, P., & Schmitt, L. (2010). Is Anakin Skywalker suffering from borderline personality disorder? Psychiatry Research DOI: 10.1016/j.psychres.2009.03.031
Image is from the Star Wars Wiki.