The Avengers (2012) is arguably one of the most successful movie franchises of modern
times. With both the current installments ranking within the top ten all time
highest grossing films in the United States (Campbell, Martin, Fabos, 2014, p. 238), the names and faces of the
characters have become a staple in American pop culture. One of these
characters is Tony Stark, or Iron Man. Tony Stark started as the heir to a
weapons manufacturing company, but after he was kidnapped and held hostage in
Afghanistan, he built an incredible metal super suit and became the hero known
as Iron Man. Iron Man is one of the most well-known members of The Avengers,
the group of superheroes who come together to take on catastrophes. Having
three movies of his own, a leading role in the two group films, and several
appearances in the independent films centered on the other members of the team,
Stark is incredibly visible.
Throughout all of his film appearances,
it has become blatantly obvious that Tony Stark suffers from Post-Traumatic
Stress Disorder (PTSD). According to the U.S Department of Veteran Affairs
(2017), PTSD is described as “A mental health problem that some people develop after
experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural
disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault.” PTSD is most commonly associated
with flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety and panic attacks, and other symptoms.
Another important component of PTSD is the duration. Anyone who has experienced
a traumatic event may have some issues immediately following it, but it is when
these issues persist that it becomes PTSD.
Man (2008), Stark was kidnapped and held for an extended period of time by
a terrorist group in Afghanistan, during which time he was gravely injured and
tortured for information. Additionally, as shown in The Avengers, he fought in many battles, and attempted to sacrifice
himself to save New York City. There is no argument that Stark has not seen his
fair share of traumatic events.
According to Travis Langley (2013),
Tony Stark displays several symptoms of PTSD, one of the most prominent being
increased arousal. It is shown multiple times in Iron Man 3 (2013), the first movie to take place after the battle
in New York depicted in The Avengers,
that Stark is dealing with severe insomnia and heightened anxiety, even
experiencing what appears to be a panic attack at multiple points in the film.
He is shown staying up all night working multiple times, often in the seclusion
of his workshop. This provides the initial evidence of another symptom,
avoidance. Stark is shown spending hours buried in his work, avoiding contact
with others, and often turning to alcohol to avoid thinking about his experiences.
These issues are shown to have been happening for months, and show no signs of
PTSD is most commonly treated with
either psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both. According to the
U.S Department of Veterans Affairs (2017) the two most used types of
psychotherapy for PTSD treatment are Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) and
Prolonged Exposure (PE). Each of these therapies tackles the problem from a
different angle, but both are effective. Using any combination of trusted therapies
and medications, PTSD can be a very treatable condition.
In conclusion, Tony Stark shows enough symptoms
that a diagnosis of PTSD could be made. Between his avoidance strategies,
increased arousal, panic attacks, and accounting for the duration of his
problems, PTSD seems to be the most likely diagnosis. Tony Stark is the first
hero of his kind to show signs of clear mental distress in a Hollywood
blockbuster, but hopefully his struggles are opening the door for mental
illness to be addressed more in the media