Arts & Life

What ‘Star Wars’ can teach us about mental health

“May the fourth be with you,” was a pun exchanged from one “Star Wars” fan to another Thursday, the day we celebrate my favorite film series. But, while TVs across the country streamed marathons of the Lucas saga, I was on the phone with one of my best friends, hearing about his latest attempt on his life.

During May we don’t just celebrate “Star Wars” and our mothers, but also mental health awareness month. The month is used as a time to draw attention to suicide and the several mental illnesses that may cause it, while reducing the stigma that surrounds them. Unfortunately for my friend, May also happens to be around the time he gets the most depressed.

He’s not alone, either – the seasonal changes that come with spring bring many people to a darker place. It may be the popular opinion that the weather gets better in the spring, but any sort of change can trigger a rise in depression. It is also a time of many milestones, with weddings and graduations we often endure nostalgia, regret or the feeling of having unfulfilled dreams.

So, as I’m worrying for my friend I decided to seek comfort in some nostalgia of my own — episodes five and six of the galactic franchise. After all, what kind of fan would I be if I didn’t watch “Star Wars” on May 4? As my screening came to an end, and with mental illness fresh on my mind, I found a stark similarity between my friend’s situation and that of Luke Skywalker.

If you consider that the emperor represents depression, the connection becomes obvious. The emperor wants to become Luke’s master, he wants to be in full control of him the way he is Darth Vader — Luke’s father, who was consumed by “the dark side.” This is just as people suffering with mental health issues sometimes feel completely consumed by their anxiety or depression.

The theme of genetics is consistent to both mental health and the series. Just as Luke is more susceptible to giving into the dark side of the force because of his father, so are people more likely to inherit mental illnesses from a parent. According to the Center for Disease Control, 73 percent of people ages 40-59 experience depression, which almost guarantees at least one parent in every family will face these issues.

A support system is extremely important for someone suffering from mental illness, especially if they are considering suicide. Unfortunately, my friend began to distance himself from his support when it seemed he needed it most. In the case of Luke, the emperor assures him that his faith in his friends is his weakness, and they won’t be able to help him take down the empire.

He then continues to taunt Luke by saying, “The hate is swelling in you now,” and encourages him to give into his anger, and “Strike him down.” Suicide often happens because the person wants the depression to end, and they feel like they are out of options. The only way to strike the mental illness down is to take one’s own life. They hate their depression, they are angry with it, but this means that by association those feelings are directed at themselves.

Of course to counter “the dark side,” the force is not all bad, there is good as well. In our comparison, the force represents life itself, and to quote Yoda, “My ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us.”

So what I would like to say to those having a tough time this spring is, be strong, and may the force be with you.

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