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?"

Editor's Note:
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.