Wired has picked up on the annual ‘psychiatrists diagnose fictional character’ story by noting that researchers have diagnosed Anakin Skywalker, aka Darth Vader, with borderline personality disorder. But is he genuinely disordered or just misunderstood?
The diagnosis of personality disorder describes someone who is consistently emotionally unstable, impulsive and has difficulty forming stable relationships, often seeming aggressive and lacking in self-control.
Borderline personality disorder or BPD is a subtype, particularly characterised by feelings of emptiness and unstable identity, suicide and self-harm, extreme and fluctuating views of others, and occasional paranoid thinking.
In 1988 two psychiatrists published an influential study that questioned the diagnosis of personality disorder, suggesting it was just a label for patients that psychiatrists didn’t like.
Lewis and Appleby gave a group of psychiatrists a number of clinical case studies, and asked them to rate their attitudes towards the patients, and say how they would treat them.
All the psychiatrists were given the same descriptions, except that some included an additional piece of information: that the patient had been given an earlier diagnosis of personality disorder.
This simple piece of information led the patients to be rated as less deserving of care, more difficult, manipulative, attention-seeking, annoying, and more in control of their suicidal urges and debts.
The authors of the study concluded that personality disorder “appears to be an enduring pejorative judgement rather than a clinical diagnosis. It is proposed that the concept be abandoned”.
So does Anakin Skywalker have borderline personality disorder? He probably fulfils the diagnostic criteria.
But the questions should really be ‘does the diagnosis do anything except express our dislike for him?’ and ‘will medicalising his problems help him to improve his life?’.