Iron Man and PTSD?

Tony Stark's Struggle with Mental Illness- by Madelyn Hansen

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Does Tony Stark struggle with PTSD?

It appears so.

Why? What's the cause? When Iron Man cut off the nuclear missile- which was headed straight for Manhattan- and guided it through a wormhole to another part of the universe, he accepted that he wasn't going to survive. He expected to die in the nuclear explosion, alone, as his suit ran out of power. The event was absolutely terrifying for Stark.

Progression: Although he was saved at the last second by the Hulk, Stark was never the same. Even though he was brave in the face of death, anything that reminded him of the frightening event afterwards now caused him intense fear and panic; he couldn't even sleep during most of the nights following the near-death experience.

Does he experience symptoms? The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has provided standard guidelines for diagnosing PTSD in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (as well as what some of the symptoms are), and Tony Stark meets DSM criteria.

  • Criterion A: Exposure to traumatic event. It´s safe to say that Stark has undergone a severe emotional trauma.
  • Criterion B: Persistent re-experiencing. Disturbing memories of the event often overcome Stark.
  • Criterion C: Persistent avoidance. Stark avoids thoughts/memories/places/situations that remind him of the event, and feels detached from others, as well activities that used to appeal to him. He also has difficulty showing emotions which were easy to him previously.
  • Criterion D: Persistent symptoms of increased arousal. He experiences persistent panic attacks coupled with insomnia.
  • Criterion E: Duration of disturbance for more than a month. Stark has had problems for many months.
  • Criterion F: Clinically significant impairment or distress. Recollections of the incident distress Stark greatly.

Clip of Stark Displaying Symptoms:

Around 8% of Americans have PTSD.

This percentage may not seem like a lot, but 8% of Americans translates to 25,512,000 people. Stark is far from alone, and his disorder is treatable.

So- how should Stark go about treating this disorder?

First, he should consider the humanistic approach. His therapist should encourage Stark's loved ones to show him unconditional positive regard, loving him regardless of how his disorder is affecting his life and their lives. This would allow him to trust his loved ones to help him grow and move past his traumatic event- maybe even learn from it. His therapist should have him focus on the present and the future and his potential for growth, instead of zoning in on the frightening events of his past and his consequential feelings and actions.

He should also consider trying out Psychotherapy, or "talk therapy," approach. His therapist could use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy by actively working with Stark to uncover his unhealthy thought patterns and how they may be causing negative beliefs and behaviors. Stark could also try Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR). In EMDR, Stark's therapist would initiate dual stimulation by encouraging the individual to stimulate the brain with back and forth eye movements while also stimulating memories by recalling his traumatic event. The eye movements would make it easier to recall the memory by giving Stark a distraction, and the recollections of the event would allow him to slowly get over his trauma over time.

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  1. "BrainLine Military." DSM-5 Criteria for PTSD. National Center for PTSD, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, n.d. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.<>.
  2. Hughes, Mark. "Why Did Tony Stark Have Anxiety Attacks & Nightmares in Iron Man 3?" Why Did Tony Stark Have Anxiety Attacks & Nightmares in Iron Man 3? Quora, 7 May 2013.Web. 24 Mar. 2016. <>.
  3. "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder." Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Mar. 2016. <>
  4. "Humanistic Approach in Psychology.", n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2016. <>.
  5. "Cognitive Processing Therapy." National Center for PTSD. National Center for PTSD, n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2016. <>.