Kara’s Anxiety Attack in ‘Supergirl’ is a Powerful Portrayal of Mental Health

Lauren Gallaway
The CW DC
The CW DC Arrowverse TV

This week on Supergirl, Kara faced off against a metahuman named Psi. Psi was able to rob multiple banks in National City because she could project people’s worst fears into their minds. When Kara first tried to stop Psi, Kara was overwhelmed with the memory of being put into her pod and sent away from Krypton. The memory crippled Kara by triggering her fear, her claustrophobia, and her pain from being sent away, alone, as a child.

At first, Kara didn’t want to admit that anything was wrong. When she went up against Psi again, Kara was so emotionally “Triggered,” (also the name of this episode) that she couldn’t fight back at all. Kara confided in Winn about the situation but continued to brush the feelings off as something she could handle. What happened next was something I have never seen on television before: on her way to fight Psi, while in an elevator at Cat Co., Kara had an anxiety attack. This was not caused by Psi, this was Kara, completely undone by the fear and trauma Psi had dug up in those previous encounters.

As a woman who deals with anxiety, I was blown away by this scene. Kara was dizzy, she was gripping her chest, she felt like she couldn’t breathe. Kara started crying, she even had to sit on the ground to catch her breath. Boom. That’s exactly what an anxiety attack feels like. When Kara found out Psi didn’t cause the attack — that this was a human anxiety attack — she was shocked, because she didn’t think she could experience one. Let’s dig into why this was something powerful and important to address on television.

Tell Me How I’m Supposed to Breathe with No Air

SupergirlKaraTriggers
Kara grabs her chest in panic.

The memory that Psi dug up was when Kara was a little girl in her Kryptonian pod. It was a memory that was so painful, so visceral, that it made adult Kara feel like she was that little girl again, hopeless and alone, in the middle of the galaxy. When adult Kara got into that elevator, an enclosed space, alone, even though Psi wasn’t manipulating her, Kara felt like she was back in that pod. This was a perfect picture of what anxiety looks like. Sometimes we can feel anxious about the current stress in our lives, but it’s usually a childhood trauma that can cause our bodies to go into full-on panic mode.

For Kara, this was a shock to her system. Not only was this her first anxiety attack, but she didn’t think she could experience something like this since she’s not human. The worse thing about an anxiety attack is that they can make you even more afraid because they are so debilitating. I am so impressed that Supergirl decided to explore this on the show, especially since Kara is Kryptonian. As an audience, we get to see Kara’s flaws, which to me, makes her even more human and more relatable than many of the other heroes we have on television today.

Finding the Lie

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Alex coaching Kara through her panic attack.

After Kara’s panic attack, she tried to take on Psi again, this time with a psychic dampener. It worked temporarily, but before she knew it, Kara was on the ground again, crying, and breathing hard. Thankfully Kara’s sister Alex found her and was there to coach Kara through the attack. First, Alex and Kara identified the real issue. While Psi had triggered Kara through her childhood memory of being sent away from Krypton, Kara was really dealing with the emotional fallout of sending Mon-El away last season.

As Kara was crying she said, “It’s not me in the pod, it’s Mon-El. I killed him.” This was what was really causing her so much pain. The one thing she feared as a child — being totally alone in space — is the exact same thing she did to the man she loved — she sent him away, in a pod, just like her parents sent her away. This guilt, this shame, this judgement against herself is what was really triggering her. Once Alex heard that this is how Kara thought of herself, that she killed Mon-El, Alex knew how to show Kara the truth. Alex said, “You didn’t kill Mon-El when you put him in that pod, you saved him, like your parents saved you.” Booom again. The second this perspective hit Kara, her eyes lit up, because she knew that this was the truth.

The Truth Will Set You Free

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Kara, soaring above her anxiety attack.

With the lie that she killed Mon-El replaced with the truth that she saved him, Kara was able to take out Psi with ease. Does that mean that she’s fixed? That she’ll never have a panic attack again? That she still doesn’t regret sending Mon-El away or that she doesn’t still have those memories of being little Kara in that pod? No way. That’s all still there.

But, Kara now has tools to fight those feelings, to fight those memories. Her parents didn’t put her in that pod to abandon her to space, they put her in it to save her and send her to earth. Kara knows that she’s not alone and she knows that Mon-El will find his way back to her. That is how she will defeat anxiety if it comes knocking on her door again. This episode showed men and women everywhere that even Supergirl deals with anxiety, and that if she can overcome it, so can we.

Supergirl airs Mondays at 8/7C on The CW.

Lauren Gallaway
TV editor at Fandom. Creator of The Marvel Report. Journalist, Comic-Con reporter, Podcaster.
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