A Caped Crusader for Mental Health

At SXSWi, there are panels you expect. And then there's Dr. Robin Rosenberg's panel "What's the Matter with Batman?"

At SXSWi, there are panels you expect. Panels on topics like mobile or HTML5 or gaming. And then there’s Dr. Robin Rosenberg’s panel “What’s the Matter with Batman?”

Some panels just hit you square you in the face. Ka-Pow!

Not that I’m a huge comic book nerd or anything, but who wouldn’t want to know whether or not the Caped Crusader is clinically diagnosable? I mean, you have to be crazy on some level to wear a costume and fight crime, right?

At least that’s what Dr. Rosenberg thinks. A clinical psychologist with a private practice in Stanford, California, she writes frequently about the topic of mental health as it relates to the superhero genre. The aforementioned title of her panel is also the title of one of her books devoted to the subject.

On Monday in Austin, Dr. Rosenberg gave Batman his diagnosis. Piecing together symptoms from Batman mythology in comics, TV and film, she discussed the possibility that Batman, whose parents were brutally murdered and who developed an alter ego to cope, suffers from either Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Turns out, it’s actually neither. He’s just a weirdo, she says.

But why do all this?

It’s fun, sure. Most people love Batman. Especially in this town.

But I think Dr. Rosenberg’s work, though intentionally lighthearted, does serious service to awareness and understanding of mental health issues at a time when it’s sorely needed. Recent tragedies like those in Newtown and Aurora have generated enough public momentum to at least overcome initial political inertia. In Texas, State Senator Charles Schwertner recently filed legislation that would provide state funding for Mental Health First Aid for Texas teachers.

But another tragedy is the last thing we need to keep the ball rolling. Perhaps pop psychology books like those written by Dr. Rosenberg are what’s needed to keep mental health in the public consciousness. If she or others like her can become the Malcolm Gladwell or Dan Ariely of mental health, then perhaps we can truly make a difference for the 57.7 million Americans affected by mental illness every year.

It’s a cause that would make even Batman proud.

By Brandon Curl