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”.
Although widely used, the diagnosis is still controversial, with some researchers arguing it is a useful and important classification, although admitting there’s still plenty of work to be done.
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?’.
Link to Wired article on diagnosing Anakin Skywalker (via OmniBrain).
2 thoughts on “Skywalker: personality disordered or misunderstood?”
I can appreciate the skepticism that arises from a “personality disorder” diagnosis, but, frankly, when a psychiatrist suggested that my mother likely had borderline personality disorder, I felt as though my entire life had finally been explained to me.
However, just because it was useful to me and my family – it was about being able to cope, not about being dismissive – it doesn’t mean that other diagnoses are equally valid. I’d certainly welcome more, and better, research on this front.
If you look through the personality disorder list, you’ll find everyone you ever hated there…
Us folk are intellectual soduku to the medical lot, our experiences removed from the calculation.
I have had nothing but dismissiveness since my diagnosis went from “depression” to “depressive personality disorder”.
My experience isn’t ever asked for. Understood or believed.
Frankly, I don’t think they even understand the plain old depression. They seem to think it involves a feeling like intense bereavement, or hyper-aloneness.
Good treatment and understanding is much more of a lottery than service-users realise.