Mental Health and Pop Culture
Game of Thrones Part 2 of 5
When we are introduced to Eddard ‘’Ned” Stark, he is the Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North. Ned lives at his family’s ancestral home, Winterfell, with his family, including his wife Catelyn, daughters Sansa and Arya, sons Robb, Bran, and Rickon, his illegitimate son Jon, and his ward Theon Greyjoy. While at times harsh, Ned is characterized as being a loving husband and father, and both honest and honorable to a fault. Ned plays by the rules and expects everyone else to do so as well.
At first glance, it may appear as though Ned does not have any mental health issues, which is, by the way, one of the reasons why I think that people really like his character. Taking a slightly closer look, Ned is not really happy with his life, but he is content. He has learned to live with the fact that he must be the Lord of Winterfell, though it’s a position that he would rather not have, and wouldn’t have had if his older brother Brandon wasn’t killed. While Ned is content with his life in Winterfell, and he cares deeply for his family, he also wrestles with the knowledge that he’s only married to Catelyn because, once again, his older brother Brandon was killed. He also knows that his friend, King Robert Baratheon, would not be the king if not for the rebellion that King Robert started after his betrothed, Lyanna (Ned’s sister), was killed.
Ned’s life, however, completely twists around after King Robert comes to Winterfell to name Ned “Hand of the King” following the death of the previous Hand, Jon Arryn. Ned does not appear to like change. He comes across as being very rule-bound, and seeing the world in a very black and white sort of way. When Ned is uprooted from his comfort-zone in Winterfell, he doesn’t quite know how to act. Ned is ‘stuck’ in that he believes that almost everyone will always be honest and truthful, and above all, that they will be honorable. As Hand, Ned leads the King’s Small Council, who actually make the day-to- day decisions that run the Seven Kingdoms, and he is faced with other council members who are devious and scheming; but, Ned is too rigid to see the other council-members for who they really are.
It appears to me as though Ned suffers from mild Depression as well as Anankastic Personality Disorder. Ned’s depressive symptoms, as I mentioned earlier, are readily understood as a result of the deaths of his brother and his sister. Ned is also preoccupied with the impending long winter, which is expected to last for many, many years.
Anankastic Personality Disorder is a personality disorder that is characterized by a preoccupation with rules, orders, lists, and details. Those who suffer from Anankastic Personality Disorder also tend to view the world in a simplified way. While Ned’s case does not prevent him from going about his daily life, it does affect his outlook on life. Ned believes that the world really is ordered, and that everyone should be following that order. Ned is so rigid in his understanding of right and wrong, and honor, that he is unable to ever see any shades of grey. By way of example, when he is first introduced, it is as an executioner - his men have caught a deserter from the Nights Watch, and he takes it upon himself to execute the deserter without even questioning why the man deserted his sworn duty. The extent of Ned’s Anankastic Personality Disorder comes to the fore when he discovers that the children believed to be King Robert’s are actually the product of Cersei’s incestuous relationship with her brother, Jaime. When Ned discovers that King Robert’s children aren’t really his, he feels that it is his duty to inform King Robert, expose Cersei, and put into place a proper line of succession in the event of King Robert’s death. Ned believes that by exposing to Cersei that he knows the truth, she will just leave and take her children with her.
Ned is driven by truth and honor, and he is a spiritual character. Ned’s preoccupation with truth and honor were ultimately his downfall because, unfortunately, he underestimated others and he was unable to see that compromise may be the best course of action. I think that the most important issue to work with Ned on first is his Anankastic Personality Disorder. To treat Ned, and help him to see that the world does not operate according to his ideals, and to help him cope with this reality, I would focus some of his therapy using a SIT following Maimonides’ famous “Golden Mean.” That is, I would help Ned to see that while there are certainly some boundaries that are inviolate, there is a middle path, and that life is more complicated than simply a clear or direct right vs wrong. As much as I would like to be able to ascribe, myself, to Ned’s core belief that people are just and honorable, I know that to not be the case, and I would utilize some traditional CBT techniques including a Core Belief worksheet and a Thought Record to help him change his thoughts and beliefs so that he can better function in society.