Ever since the creation of Marvel’s Merry Mutants by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1963, the X-Men franchise has used the mutant condition to serve as an allegory for social issues. It’s been used as a lens to examine racial violence, sexuality and many other important topics, but one that the films and TV shows have handled masterfully in recent years is the issue of mental illness. Lately, FX’s Legion, FOX’s The Gifted, and the 2017 film Logan, in particular, have tackled mental health head-on, depicting strong examples of various illnesses, like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and alcoholism, as an added struggle for our heroes.
Let’s take a look at the various ways the X-Men films and TV shows have tackled mental health directly, serving as both a glimpse into the struggles of those who endure mental illness, and the ways we can overcome our God-given obstacles.
Legion: Paranoid Schizophrenia
Though Legion can explain away David Haller’s diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia as a symptom of his mutant power, the X-Men-based series handles his power, in many ways, as though it is simply a mental illness. We see David cope with his inability to understand and control his mind, and get a window into the frightening instability and self-harm that can manifest in a time of crisis. We see how David’s relationships are damaged because of his inability to understand his mental issues, and the ensuing fear and worry that he causes his loved ones.
The series also masterfully captures the experience of residing in a mental health facility, especially in the pilot episode where we learn of David’s time at Clockworks. Showcasing the paranoia, fear and anxiety that comes with staying in a mental hospital, the series artfully depicts the struggles and dangers facing a mentally ill individual in our health care system, which has a lot to be desired. For those of us that have stayed in a mental hospital, David’s experience at Clockworks and the PTSD he suffers from his past outbursts ring particularly true.
The Gifted: Bipolar Disorder
Though The Gifted doesn’t go quite as deep as Legion, it still tackles mental health head-on. Taking cues from the comics, the writers decided to have the X-Men-based series’ Polaris (Magneto’s daughter) suffer from bipolar disorder. Showcasing the extreme highs and lows of the condition, the series is set to zero-in on the mutant’s mental health issues, and how that can affect her magnetic powers.
“100% that’s something we’re already doing,” Polaris actor Emma Dumont told CBR at New York Comic Con, with regard to exploring Polaris’ bipolar disorder on the series. “You’re totally correct, she has bipolar disorder. She’s unmedicated, she’s not being treated for it, I don’t even know if in our show she knows she has it — but she definitely does. She has major bouts of mania and very, very low times of depression…I think it’s really rad to see [someone] mentally ill — also a woman — be a hero.”
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