With the release of Heroes in Crisis #1 this week, readers were introduced to Sanctuary, the treatment center for superheroes dealing with the after-effects of trauma.
The issue’s release was highly anticipated by Vasilis Pozios, a forensic psychiatrist who co-founded the mental health and media consultancy Broadcast Thought. In the past, Pozios has voiced concern about how comic books depict people dealing with from mental illness, and he had hoped this event might be a move in the right direction.
“It’s a great thing if done well — and responsibly,” Pozios told Newsarama for our series on Trauma and Heroes in Crisis. “In other words, the depictions should be accurate and non-stigmatizing, but perhaps most importantly, entertaining without resorting to caricature or parody. After all, accuracy and entertainment don’t have to be mutually exclusive.”
He said Heroes in Crisis could really help promote the benefits of getting professional help for post-trauma symptoms. “Superheroes are celebrity analogues, and celebrities can help normalize getting help,” Pozios said. “Using fictional characters as a hook to raise mental health awareness is a powerful tool.”
Pozios, who is a member of the American Psychiatric Association's Council on Communications, said care must be taken when diagnosing or otherwise discussing fictional characters in the context of mental illness.
“We don’t want to perpetuate negative stereotypes with careless commentary, and such engagement should have the goal of public education and stigma reduction,” he said.
Pozios said he has both hopes and concerns about Heroes in Crisis, but stated that DC deserves credit for showcasing mental health in such a high profile event.
“Seven years ago, when my colleagues and I first advocated for modernizing mental health depictions in the New 52, we were literally laughed at by those responsible for the relaunch,” Pozios said. “Fortunately, since then, the public has generally embraced the broader movement advocating for improved media representation of historically marginalized groups, including people with mental illnesses. There’s no denying this is the right thing to do.
“And hopefully, Heroes in Crisis is a step in that direction. My fingers are crossed.”
And apart from Heroes in Crisis, there’s one more step Pozios would like to see DC take. “If DC intends to be serious — and consistent — about mental health representation, they need to address the elephant in the room: Arkham Asylum,” he said. “Retconning or reimagining Arkham Asylum in the service of supporting positive, accurate, non-stigmatizing mental health representation while minimizing negative, inaccurate, and stigmatizing portrayals would go a long way to prove DC is serious about mental health representation and gain the trust of mental health advocates and fans sensitive to such concerns.”
Even though the first issue of Heroes in Crisis didn’t show much of the Sanctuary facility or even much about the subject of trauma, Pozios did have one concern about issue #1 — Harley Quinn’s use violence, which he found “problematic.”
“Although comics often lean on the ‘homicidal maniac’ and ‘criminally insane’ tropes, in reality, the overwhelming majority of people with mental illnesses are not violent,” Pozios said. “In fact, only about 3 to 5 percent of violence is attributable to serious mental illness. So, this characterization of Harley Quinn, which is a puzzling departure from recent Rebirth-era depictions, is not only inaccurate but also stigmatizing, and comes off as a caricature of mental illness — an unfortunate but likely unintended consequence given the series' billing as a serious take on mental health.”
The forensic psychiatrist said he’s trying not to judge the whole series by just the first issue or the advertisements that focus on the mass murder.
“Some have voiced concerns regarding the promotion and previews of the series… feeling as though violence and trauma are fetishized,” he said. “We’ll have to see how the story plays out.”
Pozios will be appearing at New York Comic Con during the panel, “Crazy Talk: The Future of Mental Health and Pop Culture,” on Saturday, October 6 at 5:15 to 6:15 p.m. in Room 1B03 of the Javits Center.
For more information about mental illness or to get help, there are several resources and phone numbers available on The National Alliance on Mental Illness website. The V.A. also has information and resources specific to PTSD awareness at ptsd.va.gov.