Since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder have effected approximately 11% (nearly three million) of U.S. veterans, and the rates among civilians are an outstanding 13 times higher. Research also shows that only about 45% of these cases are legitimately diagnosed and treated.
We think Tony Stark, everybody's favorite billionaire-genius-playboy-philanthropist, is one of those silently sufferring from PTSD. Let's take a look at how some of Iron Man's exploits may be tearing away at his psyche.
Minutes after we first meet Robert Downey, Jr's iteration of the ingenious inventor, he becomes a hostage of the infamous Ten Rings terrorist organization - a terrifying situation for anyone. Tony plays the tough-guy act pretty well, cracking jokes at his captors and ultimately buying himself time to build his make-shift first Iron Man suit, which he uses to shoot his way out of captivity.
Upon realizing that the weapons he and his father had created were being used to hurt and kill innocent people, an enraged Stark decided to innovate the newly-designed Iron Man suit and don the armor in his quest to stop the madness he feels responsible for. From that moment on, Iron Man became a symbol of hope for many.
But naturally, there are some skeptics that have to wonder whether someone with Iron Man's capabilities should roam free strapped with that much firepower. When Stark makes the decision to reveal to the world that he is, in fact, Iron Man, all the spotlights pointed to him, but so did the controversy.
Stark's new mentality as a "superhero" and the sense of duty that came with it ultimately made him more responsible, but also vulnerable. He finds himself succumbing to emotions long ignored, which leads to a romantic relationship with personal assistant Pepper Potts, as well as improvement in both his professional and personal relationship with Lieutenant Colonel James Rhodes.
However, Stark also starts to experience significant betrayal as he dons his new title. Obadiah Stane, his longtime friend and mentor, attempts to kill Tony in his power-hungry attempts to take control of Stark Industries. It is revealed that Stane is responsible for supplying Stark's weapons to the terrorists that captured him, and Stark brings the traitor to justice in a fateful duel that ends in Stane's death.
For a while, Stark defies the stereotypical superhero approach and embraces the fame that comes with being Iron Man, but the fun only lasts so long. Upon discovering that the palladium core of the arc reactor that keeps him alive is actually slowly posioning him, Stark learns to come to terms with the possibility that being Iron Man may actually result in the ultimate sacrifice.
This revelation sends Stark into a reckless stage of denial. Starks growing comfort in near-death situations becomes extremely dangerous as he cheats death once again during the Monaco Historic Grand Prix, in which he not only drove a dangerously speedy car, but is also attacked by Ivan Vanko, the vengeful son of one of his father's former allies.
After successfully defeating Vanko and overcoming his sickness, Tony starts to consider S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury's proposal of a team of superheroes, the Avenger Initiative. Originally dismissed for his lack of "team player" qualities, Stark's developing maturity seems to grant him the neccessary recognition to join the Avengers project.
Despite the initial confrontations within the newly formed team of Avengers, Stark eventually takes charge, proudly leading his new comrades in the fight against demigod Loki and his army. Despite the stressful, war-like circumstances, Tony does a hell of a job convincing us that this is just another day in the life of Iron Man.
That is, of course, until he prepares to give his life to save his team. When Fury fails to prevent his superiors from launching a nuke into Manhattan to stop the invasion, Iron Man intercepts the missile and leads it back up to the wormhole through which the Chitauri invaders arrived, and successfully destroys their mothership.
Tony barely survives this battle-winning act of bravery. In fact, we were nearly convinced he didn't. Tony suddenly wakes up, immediately shooting out the quips we know and love him for. But we all know the humor is just a defense mechanism, shielding his vulnerabilty from the rest of the world.
After the Avengers go their separate ways, the wormhole incident still greatly effects Tony Stark. He grows restless, waking up from flashbacks and nightmares in the middle of the night, and even suffers from a panic attack when a kid casually mentions the events of the battle.
Tony expresses his struggle to deal with the emotional effects of the battle through his work, which evolves into a consistent need to save someone - anyone. This behavior soon turns self-destructive, as an automated suit nearly kills Pepper Potts while they sleep and Stark's attempts to take on the Mandarin lead to a nearly-fateful attack that managed to convince the entire world that Tony was dead.
The fight against the Mandarin, who turns out to be a sham conducted by rival scientist Aldrich Killian, had turned extremely personal for Stark. He fights Killian to the bitter end, and ultimately decides to retire from the Avenger life and settle down with Pepper. Tony destroys his Iron Man suits and undergoes surgery that makes the arc reactor in his chest no longer neccessary.
But Tony is unable to supress his need to save the world. With the assistant of Dr. Bruce Banner, Tony uses the gem from Loki's scepter to lend artificial intelligence to their global defense program, Ultron.
But the program ultimately backfires on them as Ultron takes on a mind of his own. Overwhelmed with a deity complex and convinced that the human race must be eradicated to ensure peace, Ultron attacks the Avengers, which leads to a long fight for control of the Earth.
The quest to defeat Ultron is successful, but comes with many casualties. The city of Sokovia is nearly destroyed and many lives are lost due to the events leading to Ultron's demise. Tony assumes responsibility for these losses, as Ultron was the offspring of his attempts to make the world safer.
Tony's inability to cope with the role he played in the Ultron disaster leads him to advocate the Sokovia Accords, a registration act designed to regulate the actions of superheroes. While many of his comrades agree that government oversight is neccessary, Captain America leads a team of fellow Avengers who believe that the government would only serve as an obstacle in their well-intended quests.
The feud turns violent when Cap's loyalty to his war buddy, James "Bucky" Barnes, leads to his team and himself becoming fugitives. The fight pits former allies and friends against each other, severely injures Lt. Col. Rhodes, and brings to light the revealation that Barnes was responsible for the premature death of Tony's parents.
Tony's painfully significant experiences with terror and death have caused severe damage to his psychological health. He lives off a need to be a hero, and belittles himself for every unsuccessful attempt. He struggles to deal with the consistent betrayal and violence that surrounds him, and is completely unable to live a peaceful life.
And with at least a few more films in Robert Downey, Jr.'s contract, is doubtful that Tony Stark's behavior will see any improvement anytime soon. But, who knows? Perhaps future films will delve into his self-destructive habits. Maybe we'll see him get the help that he needs.