Superheroes and Mental Illness Pt II

Continuing from the last article, we began asking whether a mental illness brings a superpower. I think the best way to answer this is to ask someone with a mental illness or disorder if they feel like a superhero. I also think we do more damage than good when we try to explain mental illness as the result of “having been strong for so long”. Mental illness is what it says it is, an illness. It doesn’t care if you are strong or weak, rich or poor, male or female or any other demographic.
I have a personal investment in Tourette Syndrome and first began to realise a potential link between disorders and strengths when I learned of Tim Howard’s experiences. His openness about his experiences with Tourette Syndrome, and the fact he is a top goalie has made Howard a bit of a legend in our house. Howard has said the he was not teased for his condition although he was aware of talk, and he was labeled “disabled” while playing soccer in England for Manchester United (Edwards, 2014), but he was able to fight through this and make his condition work for him. Current studies suggest that Howard’s skill and natural talent may in fact have some roots in his Tourette Syndrome, in that children with Tourette Syndrome show faster reaction times than a control group of similar age (Vicario, Martino, Spata, Defazio, Giacche, Rappo, Pepi, Silvestri, & Cardona, 2010).
The positive side of this is that while it should never be hoped that an individual would ever have to live with any disorder, it can in fact become something of a what is reported as “superpower” (Dahl, 2014). Is every kid with Tourette Syndrome going to be a world-class athlete? Probably not, but they may be able to get good enough that their social standing is bolstered through their sporting achievement and their quality of life is improved because of it. I am looking into this possibility in my dissertation – I’ll let you know the findings. In the meantime, you can learn more about Tim Howard’s experiences with Tourette Syndrome from his book recommended here.
It’s not just Tourette Syndrome where we build coping mechanisms though. An article published earlier it the year shows four areas where people with anxiety disorders show an increase in four “superpowers” – Increased threat detection, higher IQ, increased empathy, and the ability to feel the energy of others (Segal, 2017). And the link with humour and depression? Yep, that too has been studied and humour has been found to be a coping mechanism (Freiheit, Overholser & Lehnert, 1998).
Here are the three take aways for today:
1 – Mental illness doesn’t care if you are strong or weak – it is no more discriminatory than the flu, food poisoning, or migraines.
2 – I’ve said this before and will say it until the day I die – If you need help, if you are struggling, talk to someone. If you have a friend who is struggling, check in on them and give them support. They may not feel they can make the first move.
3 – If your coping mechanism is a superpower to you then fly with it.
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Dahl, M. (2014, July 02). Can tourette’s help explain Tim Howard’s superpowers?. Retrieved from
Edwards, A. (2014, May 14). Usmnt goalkeeper Tim Howard opens up about his struggles with tourette’s syndrome. Retrieved from
Freiheit, S. R., Overholser, J. C., & Lehnert, K. L. (1998). The Association Between Humor and Depression in Adolescent Psychiatric Inpatients and High School Students. Journal of Adolescent Research, 13(1), 32-48.
Segal, S. (2017, April 25). 4 Powers That May Be Hiding Behind Anxiety Disorders. Retrieved May 02, 2017, from
Vicario, C., Martino, D., Spata, F., Defazio, G., Giacche, R., Rappo, G., Pepi, M.A., & Silvestri, P., Cardona, F. (2010). Time processing in children with tourette’s syndrome. Brain and Cognition73(1), 28-34.
Picture credit: I found it in Pintrest. I’ll be more than happy to give citation to creator.

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