June 7th, 2010
12:56 PM ET

What is Darth Vader's diagnosis?

By Elizabeth Landau
CNN.com Health Writer/Producer

The manipulations of  Anakin Skywalker, also known as Darth Vader in the "Star Wars"  saga, have long been ascribed to the Dark Side of the Force. Now, psychiatrists suggests that the actions of the Jedi Knight could be used in teaching about a real-life mental illness.

A letter to the editor in the journal Psychiatry Research explores just what is wrong with Vader. French researchers posit that Vader exhibits six out of the nine criteria for borderline personality disorder. Unstable moods, interpersonal relationships, and behaviors are all characteristics of this condition, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health. It affects 2 percent of adults, mostly young women.

The young Anakin Skywalker was separated from his mother at an early age, and his father was absent, factors that could have contributed to borderline personality disorder. His "infantile illusions of omnipotence" and "dysfunctional experiences of self and others" are also indicative of this condition from an early age.

The researchers argue that Vader experienced two "dissociative episodes," one when he exterminated the Tusken people after his mother's death, and the other when he killed all of the Jedi younglings. He often showed impulsive behavior and had difficulty controlling his anger. He also may have showcased a disturbance in identity by turning to the dark side and changing his name.

Darth Vader may thus be used to educate the public about borderline personality disorder and help combat stigma associated with mental illness.

But Emory psychiatrist Dr. Charles Raison, CNNhealth.com's mental health expert, has a different take. In the original three movies - which are the last three chronologically - Vader appears to be under the control of an evil emperor, making his character difficult to ascribe to a psychiatric disorder.

UPDATE: Dr. Raison would like to clarify that his comment was specific to Darth Vader and not to Anakin Skywalker. "Anakin is a much better exemplar of personality disturbance," he says. "On the other hand Darth Vader laid down his life to save his son and kill the evil emperor when all was said and done. Perhaps there is a lesson here, too, on type casting people who struggle with personality disturbances?"

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soundoff (420 Responses)
  1. disagreeable

    BPD, brings about self-destructive behavior... Vader suceeded at his job and took care of the one relationship he cherished with the emperor... More of a psychopath to me-which would be anti-social personality disorder or conduct disorder when he was young Skywalker...

    June 12, 2010 at 02:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. david

    whenever psychology gets involved with mythology, its too far. they are all archetypes, nothing more. asking for realism is asking why the Milenium Falcon's jets make noise in a vacuum of space. Or Why Luke is such a Whiner.

    June 12, 2010 at 03:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. lonnie

    Everyone does realize that Darthy is a fictional character, ie not real, not alive? And as such, he can have no mental problems... the character is written to any end the author wishes... now, if you want to talk about that guy..
    Luke is Leia's brother, yet in episode five, she plants a big sloppy one on him... and further compounds the deed in # 6 ("Attack of the Care Bears"). Here she tells Luke that she's always known they were sibs..
    Then what's with good ol' Ma (Padme) having a thing for a six year old?.. Talk about a dark side, yeesh...

    June 12, 2010 at 06:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Thomas Holley

    I had determined that Edna Pontellier in Kate Chopin's "The Awakening" is actually a sociopath. I would love for those French researchers to take a look at her and see if they agree.

    June 12, 2010 at 09:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Owend

    Such foolishness! Its a movie and a story that comes under the heading of scifi. (Besides, the dark side is infinitely more powerful that a psychiatric condition)

    June 12, 2010 at 10:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. darthladyofthesith

    You guys missed one BIG factor that changes ALL of the premises that this 'diagnosis' as based on.........
    not to mention the fact that Anakin – aka Darth Vader – was CREATED by midiclorians in a universe that is held together by the force, therefore earth human psychology does not apply.
    That being said – Europe is in a financial crisis and they spend money on THIS!?!!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?
    I'm a huge star wars fan – and even I thought that this was ridiculous – at first I though is was some kind of a funny blog post .................
    Get a life people.

    June 12, 2010 at 11:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. BW

    I've really enjoyed the commemts. You could write a thesis on these alone. But what's funny is the number of people saying "its just a fictional character". So it seems wierd diagnosing a fictional character with mental illness. You Forget Dear Friends that a REAL person had to write the story and a REAL person can infuse any characteristics they want onto the fictional one. Therefore, Lucas could have programmed Darth exactly to be flawed. I'm not saying Lucas was flawed, only that he knew enough to make his character that way.

    June 12, 2010 at 11:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Preston

    Is it just me or is this bogus? Seriously... From a young age Anakin was building pod racers and racing in races that no other non Jedi human could race in. THEN Qui Gon Jinn basically told him he was the "savior." That obviously is the result of his idea of omnipotence.

    Anakin was then raised as a jedi under Obi Wan Kenobi against the Jedi's recommendations. The Jedi are supposed to eliminate their personal life, yet Anakin already had a personal life and the Jedi disapproving of him set him aside making him reject the core of their code. hints the "Unstable moods, interpersonal relationships, and behaviors," he had an internal battle caused by his Jedi training, specifically what Yoda said "could" happen.

    Oh and Darth Vader saved his son because that is what kind of person he was. Darth Vader, when he was Anakin did everything to try to save the woman he loved, even turning to the dark side, and received a new name (note: not to mix it up with changing his name, because Anakin didn't change his name he was GIVEN a name by the Sith lord after joining the Sith cult.) Anakin wasn't experiencing mental illnesses, he was trying to save his love and mother of his children. When Vader couldn't save his wife he continued the remainder of his life in a state of mourning and despair trying to release the horrid emotions inside of him. When he had the chance to save his son he tried. BOTH times. Luke: "You killed my father" Vader "I am your father!" Luke " nooooooo!" vader "join me, and together we can rule as father and son" This was his first attempt to save his sons life. At the end when he throws Darth Sidious into the core of the death star, he was saving his childs life again.

    The only mental disorder, if it can even be called a mental disorder, Is the large amount of power given to Anakin and told to Anakin that he has. Vader is perfectly normal

    June 12, 2010 at 22:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Son of Vader

      Thank you.

      May 16, 2015 at 19:50 | Report abuse |
  9. darth j

    anikan skywalker aka darth vader was created by the force to bringg balance and by him serveing the order and falling in love witch was the true reaSON BEhIND HIS TURNING TO THE DARK side not some desire to be evil and through his love he created luke and it was his love for luke that made him destroy the emporer and the syth witch left luke to figure out how to bring back the order and in doing so the force came to a balance as luke learned their is no good or evil in the force their is only the will of the force weather you are a good jedi or an evil syth depends on your oun desire for power the force serves the universe and is not meant to serve the individual!

    June 15, 2010 at 11:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. LLB

    HERE'S why using a movie character to talk about mental illness isn't such a bad idea:


    I was a teacher, tutor, and mentor for 25 years. Anikin Skywalker's situation/condition is very real, and I have seen it in particularly intelligent, initially well-meaning adolescent males I have worked with."

    Randi Kreger has written a rebuttal to this report, complete with some help from SW fandom...


    June 26, 2010 at 17:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Darth Ballsack

    TL;DR but good god that's a long comment.

    June 30, 2010 at 12:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. F Off

    I know a guy who has some PTSD from the d-bags at his school and church. It is funny, they walk around feeling better than everyone else while they themselves are the most putrid scum I can think of. They slander and break the 9th commandment like it is going out of style. Its a pretty fucking big deal and all those d-bags will have to answer to God on their judgment day. its a pretty big fucking deal. a pretty big fucking deal.

    October 12, 2010 at 00:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. F Off

    The people from his church also still talk about him. They say he ran out on the church's recovery group. The truth is that the leader of that group and the leader of the church should be prosecuted for the trauma they caused on this guy. The truth is that Jesus is protecting him. The truth is that they are morons. The truth is that they took advantage of someone with a mental illness. The truth is that Jesus still heals even when the church itself is an ironic mess.

    October 22, 2010 at 11:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. F Off

    "They say the world is round, but it's crooked just the same."

    October 22, 2010 at 12:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. bol

    I just like the helpful info you provide on your articles. I will bookmark your weblog and check once more right here regularly. I'm rather certain I'll be told lots of new stuff right here! Best of luck for the next!

    August 7, 2012 at 18:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. KabbalArt

    we are tri-polar 😉

    November 27, 2014 at 09:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Mark Osterloh, MD, JD, RPh

    Borderline Personality Disorder is the most difficult to understand and diagnose mental illnesses. As a consequence there is little awareness of its existence in the general public. If there were greater awareness, more resources would be brought to the table to help these people. I believe the biggest problem is its name. "Borderline" means nothing in helping us understand the condition. I have proposed that we change the name to Faultfinding Personality Disorder based on the most important diagnostic criterion – chronic finding of fault with themselves and others due to their black-and-white thinking which leads to disturbed interpersonal relationships. To back this up I wrote the book "Faultfinders: The impact of borderline personality disorder." I explained the condition using examples of numerous famous people to make the symptoms memorable. I would be interested to hear what others think about a possible name change.

    April 16, 2016 at 18:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. ladylavinia1932

    Vader's "diagnosis" is that he is a sentient being capable of both positive and monstrous acts. Like every other sentient being in the universe . . . even if we humans lack the balls to admit it.

    December 21, 2016 at 23:28 | Report abuse | Reply
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