Is Batman Insane?

Anyone who’s known me longer than five minutes knows I am a HUGE Batman fan. To me, he represents the ultimate hero and I’ve looked up to and admired him my entire life. It’s not just his ability to be a hero in the absence of superpowers, it’s his unfailing morals and belief that everyone has the capacity to reform and his willingness to take action, no matter the personal costs to himself and sacrifices he needs to make. Obviously I am speaking about the canonical Batman, the one who doesn’t kill, no matter what (however in this overall post, I am not necessarily discounting other versions of the character). Batman’s core values are ones that I share and they have only gotten even stronger over the years after everything I’ve learned from my studies and experienced in my professional career. I am not saying that I necessarily agree that vigilante justice is the way to tackle crime; in fact, no research has found that vigilantism does anything to reduce crime rates. What I am saying is that Batman’s motivation for his vigilantism, is a motivation shared by me in my own professional (and completely lawful by the way) career.

Over the years, I’ve come across a wealth of articles online asserting that Batman is actually not someone that should be admired because he is insane, or at the very least, has mental health issues. I take issue with these for two reasons. Firstly, they are fraught with inaccuracy about the character as well as the multiple disorders they claim with which he is afflicted. Secondly, the notion that someone shouldn’t be admired because they have mental health issues is one I find completely absurd. Am I defensive on this matter because I’m a huge fan? Of course the answer is yes. But I’m a huge fan who also happens to be an academic and qualified psychologist and I’ve yet to find any convincing papers by other credible academics that successfully argue the mental health diagnosis of this fictional (yes, folks, awesome as he may be, let’s not forget he isn’t actually real…) character. 

Anyone who has read the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders (DSM 5) and has a limited grasp of psychology, tends to be able to magically diagnose everyone, including themselves with at least one, and often more than one of the listed disorders. Trouble is, it takes more than a checklist to make such diagnoses and the DSM 5 doesn’t really offer more than this. I’ll spare you all the myriad of disorders other authors have claimed that Batman has, suffice to say, it is pretty much every single one in the DSM 5. 

You’ll get no argument from me that his behaviour is by no means “normal.” Neither are the circumstances in which he grew up. Both parents murdered in front of him when he was a child, raised by the family butler in an environment of wealth and excess, with few close friends and in a lavish home that bordered on one of the most crime-ridden cities that has ever existed. He took his pain, his grief and used it to make himself stronger, both mentally and physically to engage in vigilante justice, motivated by his desire to make his home, Gotham City, a better place. This endeavour consumed him completely, sacrificing love, relationships, leisure, normal employment, sleep and risking his life night after night for what has largely been a totally thankless task. His motivations have remained entirely intrinsic, even after he became more or less accepted by Gotham’s law enforcement and the general public. Does this make him insane? Or does it make him the ultimate example for positive mental health? Taking the pain of his past and letting it drive him to do some good? I tend to argue the latter for one very simple reason. If he was truly insane, or afflicted with a genuinely crippling mental health disorder, it is extremely unlikely that he would still be alive and so successful in his quest as Batman. It is even less likely that he would continue to allow criminals to live, in fact saving their lives on many occasions to ensure they face genuine justice and are afforded the opportunity to rehabilitate. These are not the actions of an insane individual. 

So why do people claim he is insane? Is it jealousy of this fictional character? A more likely explanation is that people look at someone who chooses to forego the “norms” of life for a seemingly endless quest as having something “wrong” with them. It’s comfortable for people to label those with values entirely different from their own as being “weird” and by extension, having some diagnosable condition. This notion could almost be an entire blog post on its own so I won’t dwell on it here. All I will say in conclusion is that until DC choose, as Batman’s creators and writers, to diagnose him with an actual mental illness, I will yet to be convinced by the amateur “experts” who continue to write articles claiming he is insane. And as someone who has also spent most of my life training physically and mentally, foregoing much of the “normal” that most people take for granted, to work in a field where I am at risk every single day from the very people I believe can rehabilitate, I take issue with the claim that these things make a person insane. Having a strong belief that what you are doing is right, even in the face of danger and being willing to make personal sacrifices to do what needs to be done, to make the world a little bit safer, does not make a person insane. It makes them necessary, and a valuable commodity in a world that desperately needs to change. 

“All men have their limits. They learn what they are and they learn not to exceed them. I ignore mine” – Batman.

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