Being a superhero seems to have a lot of benefits at first. You get powers or impressive tech, you save the world on a regular basis, and (for the most part) the people love you. However, there’s a dark side to the superhero life and a cost that many have to pay — their mental health. Obviously, not every vigilante has serious problems. However, there’s still a significant risk with all the stress that being a superhero puts on the human psyche. So what are the big perils that come with putting on a mask? There are a myriad of potential problems, but these ten appear to be the most common.

***Disclaimer: These are largely speculative diagnoses, as I am not an expert in mental health***

1. Loss of Identity

Mental Health
Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Being a superhero ultimately means leading two separate lives in most cases. Heroes have to find a balance between their superhero identity and their normal one. It’s difficult, but most heroes typically find that balance. Most.

There have numerous occasions where heroes have found the stress of two lives too difficult, and jettison their original identity. Characters like Spider-Man, Daredevil, and Moon Knight have all walked this path before. However, the most well-known example is Batman. Everyone knows his origin — young Bruce Wayne witnesses his parents’ murder in front of him and swears vengeance. Since that day, the development of the Batman identity made it impossible for Bruce to have a normal life.

His closest allies generally agree that Bruce Wayne is simply the mask Batman wears to fund his crimefighting career. It’s been seen in a variety of stories, such as actor Kevin Conroy using two different voices for the characters on BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES. The comics have shown it well in BRUCE WAYNE: MURDERER, where Batman chose to abandon the Wayne identity completely. It could be seen as Batman trying to abandon the part of himself still in Crime Alley, crying over his fallen parents.

2. Depression

Mental Health
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

Superhero life carries a great deal of pain and sacrifice. It’s no wonder that heroes might suffer depression as a result. Comics have shown depression in a variety of ways. Tony Stark’s struggle with alcoholism stems from stress and depression over losing control of his company and from being Iron Man. Spider-Man constantly feels a lack of self-worth when he’s unable to save everyone. However, a more prominent figure for this disease is Daredevil, who admitted to suffering from it in 2014’s DAREDEVIL #10.

Daredevil’s description of his depression is both heartbreaking and far too accurate. The Man Without Fear claims depression leaves him feeling empty and numb, and that it drives away all the good things in his life. These are common feelings for people suffering from depression, and are easy to understand given Daredevil’s tragic backstory. He even admits that he considered suicide at one point. It’s an all too real reminder of how depression can affect even the most fearless.

3. Anxiety

Mental Health
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

One of the more common mental health disorders, it’s again not hard to imagine heroes suffering from this disease. Anxiety causes fear of possible dangers (which is different from fear as a response to actual danger), and anyone who’s read Marvel’s CIVIL WAR can argue both Iron Man and Captain Marvel showed traits of it there. However, one very unlikely hero shows how powerful anxiety is — the Incredible Hulk.

The Hulk is often used as a metaphor for the repressed side of human nature, or even for the atomic bomb. However, his actions can be seen as a result of anxiety. The Hulk’s earliest stories often depicted him as just wanting to be “left alone.” Many people with anxiety avoid social situations because they’re afraid of how they will be perceived. There’s also the fact that Bruce Banner’s father thought he was a monster for most of his childhood. Now, when Banner actually becomes a monster, all he wants is to be away from everyone else.

Traumatic Superhero Origins: When The Going Gets Tough

4. Loss of Trust

Mental Health
Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Bring a superhero means that there are regularly threats on your life. That can make it difficult to form bonds that last. Superheroes generally show this by having very few people in their lives they actually trust. Someone like Punisher is a prime example. His family was killed in front of him, due to a mob hit. He chose to follow a code most heroes don’t (lethal force) and operate primarily as a loner. He chose to take lives in his missions because he no longer feels like he can trust the outside world.

A stronger example is, once again, Batman. The death of his parents made it difficult for him to get to close to anyone. He’s famous for pushing people away when things become difficult (see KNIGHTFALL or NO MAN’s LAND), citing a lack of trust (or a need for control). He even created secret failsafes against the Justice League. Like the Punisher, Batman’s past has affected his mental health to the point where trust is nearly impossible.

5. Isolation

Mental Health
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

A lack of trust for others usually leads to a loner superhero. While there are certainly other factors that lead to it, isolation is still a very prominent issue for superheroes. Batman and Punisher are again prime suspects, given their lack of trust. Both exist in their own worlds, and even the few connections they have are tenuous (Batman usually puts Gotham first over JLA business). However, there are other ways isolation can emerge.

The Hulk works as an example, but a more unique one is Ben Grimm (AKA the Thing). While the Hulk is usually alone, Ben is typically amongst his family, the Fantastic Four. However, his mutation makes him stand out from the rest of his teammates. Ben has been the Thing for almost the entirety of his superhero career, and the strain of not being fully human frequently affects him. He’s quit the team and endlessly bounced between being human and the Thing. It’s almost a defining trait of his character at this point for him to never quite belong.

6. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Mental Health
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

Most superheroes start with a tragic origin story, so suffering PTSD is no surprise. Again, Batman fits, but there are certainly other characters. Magneto and Wolverine both have tragic backstories. Magneto lost his family to Nazis and Wolverine’s history is a long, bloody tale of tragedy. As a result, Magneto has obsessed over world domination to protect mutants, and Wolverine constantly struggles against his darker nature.

However, a more prominent example is Jessica Jones. Jones underwent kidnapping, mental brainwashing, and rape at the hands of the Purple Man. Since then, she often drowns her pain in alcohol. The strain of the Purple Man’s actions has affected her mental health ever since, giving her a quick temper and difficulty trusting other. The Netflix adaption went into further detail, as Jessica frequently experienced episodes at the mere hint of the Purple Man, and often uses psychological mantras to calm herself. It’s a detail that echoes the lives of real people struggling with PTSD.

7. Nervous Breakdown

Mental Health
Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

The stress of being a superhero is clearly high. Most make it look easy for a while but, eventually, there comes a point where they can’t handle it anymore. Many heroes have reached the breaking point, but the most prominent example in recent history is Wonder Woman.

Greg Rucka’s “The Truth” storyline had the Amazon princess learn disturbing truths about her past and origins. The strain caused one of the greatest heroes in the DCU to suffer a total nervous breakdown. She was even placed in a mental institution. She struggled to understand the truth of who and what she is. The story was especially poignant since it took the help of her friends to bring her out. This arc shows that even the strongest have their breaking point, which makes every hero seem more human.

8. Repression

Mental Health
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

Another way many people deal with stress is to block it out. In extreme cases, this can lead to actual repression of unpleasant or difficult memories. Superheroes can be just as prone to this as anyone else. Bruce Banner repressed many of his desires, which led to the green and gray Hulk personas. Each Hulk represented a different Banner. Green was childhood anger, gray, teenage desire.

Wolverine, however, stands as perhaps the best example of repression. His healing ability not only affects his body, but also his mind. When faced with painful memories, his powers literally block them out. Logan has spent much of his life wondering who he is as a result. It’s a literal form of repression, but it accomplishes the same purpose — blocking painful truths, even at a much greater cost.

Mental Health In the Media When Done Right

9. Inferiority Complex

Mental Health
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

The demands of superheroing require a strong-willed, confident person. However, the costs often cause even the strongest heroes to doubt themselves, and try harder to a fault. No one embodies this mental health problem more than Spider-Man.

The webslinger’s entire career started when he failed to save his uncle. Since then, Peter Parker has spent his days trying to save as many people as possible. During that time he even became an Avenger, but often felt inadequate on the team. There is also the matter of his legendary angst when he fails to save anyone. At one point, Spidey even declared that no one else would ever die under his watch. It was a ludicrous claim, but one that a person struggling to rise above their own insecurity might easily make.

10. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Mental Health
Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

The final disorder is also one of the more common. Again, Batman is likely a prime example of this. He’s famous for his meticulous work and need for control. This is a man who has five backup plans for each of his five backups! As mentioned previously, he has contingencies to even deal with his allies. His associates learn quickly it’s Batman’s rules or nothing.

However, OCD is something Batman shares with one of his greatest foes. The Riddler also suffers from OCD, namely through his namesake riddles. Despite the danger, he always leaves clues to his next crime behind. They ultimately lead to his downfall, but Riddler cannot resist. He’s obsessed with drawing attention to himself, even from those looking to imprison him. It’s also reflected in his need to be the smartest man in the room at all times. This unique mirror-issue reminds us how anyone can suffer from mental health problems in the world of superheroes.

Why Superhero Mental Health Matters

We look at superheroes as modern gods in many ways. However, these gods are subject to many mental health problems. This list doesn’t even scratch the surface of every mental health they may experience. However, the fact that superheroes do suffer from these problems gives hope to people actually struggling with them. They live with conditions that cause them the same kind of pain as real people. Yet they still pull through to accomplish great feats, despite their mental health problems.

Much more memorable than just outrunning a locomotive, isn’t it?

Show ComicsVerse some Love! Leave a Reply!