Skip to content

Op-Ed: You’re Not Alone. Superheroes Can Struggle With Mental Illness Too

WARNING: This article is meant to be comforting, but contains sensitive material as it deals with a very sensitive issue. There will be mentions of suicide, drug abuse, etc. Please read at your own discretion. If this troubles you, please don’t read any further.

If you are contemplating suicide, let someone know or call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can also click here to join their online chat.

I have a mental illness, but that’s okay because a lot of my favorite superheroes do, too. I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder about a decade or so ago. Over the years, I have been coping and seeking treatment, but I wouldn’t have made it if it weren’t for these superheroes who struggle with the same things I do and manage to overcome it when it hits.  To anyone else suffering with a mental illness and looking for a companion, you have me. But if you want someone cooler, more interesting, and more readily accessible, here are some superheroes out there who can help you.

Tony Stark/Iron Man

demon in a bottle marvel database
Iron Man Vol. 1 #128: Demon in a Bottle. (Art by Bob Layton)

Funnily enough, it’s almost impossible to relate to Tony Stark because he is a genius, billionaire, and playboy philanthropist. These are his greatest feats, not to mention he’s a gosh darn Avenger. But underneath that suit—whether it be an Iron Man or a three-piece designer-made one—he is a very real human dealing with very real problems: addictive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, narcissism, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Just to name a few. With the Iron Man suit, it’s usually pretty easy for the armored avenger to take down his foes, but he is in a constant struggle with his own demons. Nevertheless, he is still invincible.

Frank Castle/The Punisher

The-Punisher ptsd help black film.jpg
Luckily, Frank’s marine buddy, Curtis, holds support groups for veterans suffering from PTSD as well. (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

Unfortunately, trauma creates character in a literary sense, so many of the superheroes we see today suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Just like any mental illness, they all deal with it differently. Some vow to use their great powers with great responsibility, some vow to protect Earth from suffering the same fate as their home planet, and some go as far as dressing up as a bat to beat up criminals at night with a teenage boy wearing tights. Weird. All these characters are known universally—even to those who know nothing about superheroes—but the character I think embodies this mental disorder most perfectly is Frank Castle’s Punisher. He is definitely a controversial character with his body count and over-the-top preferences when it comes to weapons, but he is a genuinely good guy who protects the innocent and defeats those who are trying to harm them. There’s a reason why so many members of the military use his iconic skull symbol. He’s a mentally unhealthy character, but I believe he’s a healthy outlet for those suffering from post-traumatic disorder.

Bruce Banner/The Hulk

Avengers-Age-of-Ultron-upset-Hulk-Bruce-Banner.jpg fat movie guy
Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner in Avengers: Age of Ultron (Courtesy of Marvel Studios)

To be blunt, Bruce Banner always looks like someone just ran over his cat because they probably did. The bashful scientist’s luck is just so bad, he can’t even enjoy his super strength because he has to give it up to his green alter ego. More than that, he’s made a fugitive from the law and has understandable trust issues because most people want to use him for his blood, really only caring about the Hulk. It’s rare that he encounters people who are interested in him for him. So it’s no wonder that he’s so depressed, both mentally and physically. He’s always seen slouching and trying to make himself smaller, even in the movies. Not to mention he always seems underfed and not getting enough sleep. Having the Hulk as an alter ego does that to a person. Probably the most heart-breaking moment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is when Bruce admits to attempting suicide in The Avengers (2012). Despite his inner turmoil, Bruce is constantly giving his genius intellect and endless compassion to help people. He is the definition of selflessness. Bruce Banner doesn’t need the Hulk to be a hero.

J’onn J’onnz/Martian Manhunter

martian man fire by doug mahnke.jpg
The Martian’s weakness to fire is often described as psychosomatic, suggesting that the weakness is due to mental trauma only. (Art by Dough Manhke)

Similarly, Martian Manhunter is an unlucky soul with a heart twice the size of Texas. He witnessed the genocide of his whole race at the hands of the white Martians, but still manages to show pure love and affection for his white Martian niece, Miss Martian. J’onn is the only green Martian left and became a refugee. This trauma has definitely given him PTSD, but interestingly, a phobia. While all Martians are inherently weaker around fire, watching his race die out in flames has transformed J’onn’s natural weakness into a fleshed-out, debilitating pyrophobia. Something as simple as a flame can bring on the most powerful members of the Justice League to their knees. Phobias are often overlooked when dealing with mental health, but Martian Manhunter illustrates that it’s very real and is just as serious as any other mental disorder.

There are plenty other superheroes out there that suffer from mental illness but still manage to be heroes, but these are the ones that stand out to me. Together, they illustrate that we can endure any hardship we are given and use what we’ve learned to help those who are having a harder time enduring it.

Who inspires you to endure and help others? Let me know in the comments below!           

Nothing but love.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: