Psychology superhero: Fighting crime on mental health stigmas


Anna Vazhaeparambil

Psychologist Dr. Andrea Letamendi speaks to upper school students about building resilience to combat anxiety and stress. She used her passion for comic books to depict a narrative that many students were knowledgeable about.

by Alysa Suleiman, Sports Reporter

Psychologist and comic-lover Dr. Andrea Letamendi spoke to the upper school during two assemblies for underclassmen and upperclassmen on Tuesday, Oct. 22. Her lecture, titled “Psychology of Superheroes: Resilience, Self-care and Purpose,” covered topics of identity, acceptance, empowerment and methods of self-help.

Now the director of the Student Resilience Center at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Dr. Letamendi is introducing patients and students alike to a new facet of psychology: utilizing media and pop culture to spread the message of self-acceptance and destigmatize mental health. Dr. Letamendi is also the creator of a  Batman-inspired podcast “The Arkham Sessions,” which offers weekly observations and psychological clinical analyses of characters in the television show “Batman: The Animated Series.”

Through her own origin story, Dr. Letamendi related the struggles she encountered as a half-Chinese, half-Ecuadorian female navigating high school and college as she grew to accept her own identity, eventually combining her passion for superheroes with a professional career in mental health services. 

An avid D.C. Comics lover and an annual attendee of the San Diego Comic Convention, Dr. Letamendi became a cosplayer to further her intrigue of parasocial relationships, where real-life people experience genuine feelings for fictional characters in mass media. Dr. Letamendi, who was working on obtaining her Ph.D. at the time, was nearly consumed by the onset of anxiety that resulted from trying to distinguish her professional and personal worlds.

“I was worried that having a passion for comic books and an interest in superheroes [were] things for kids,” Dr. Letamendi said during her speech, utilizing an image of the supervillain Joker to convey her message. “The stress … and depression accumulated, and I discovered the villain in my head:  imposter syndrome.”

Anna Vazhaeparambil

Dr. Letamendi’s resilience was strengthened by comic book writer Gail Simones, who incorporated Dr. Letamendi as a character in her newest comic after reaching out to Dr. Letamendi for her help as an experienced psychologist after listening to her speak at a Comic-Con. For the first time, Dr. Letamendi felt empowered for being portrayed as the real her: a biracial Latina woman shown in a professional position, proving to young girls that they can be role models in public media.  

Students in the audience found themselves inspired by her speech. Lucas Chen (10) appreciated Dr. Letamendi’s pop culture and media approach to addressing mental health and well-being since teens relate to the issue well. 

“It’s  inspiring that she found a way to connect her passion with the general population and use it to help others and inspire others,” Lucas said. “Through her lecture, I realized that no matter what your passion is you [can] still make an influence in ways you [would] never expect.”

Anna Vazhaeparambil
Arushi Madan (12) listens to Dr. Andrea Letamendi during the assembly on Tuesday. Students were split up into underclassmen and upperclassmen to hear her speak.

For students experiencing extreme academic stress, Dr. Letamendi recommends reaching out to trusted faculty as well as online chat and text therapy.

“We’re gonna experience so many self doubts and questions and challenges, so I think it’s important to move forward no matter what people say or how they challenge us,” Dr. Letamendi said.

Dr. Letamendi concluded the lecture with methods on improving self care. She asked students to reflect on one word and build their self-care routines around it. For her, self-care meant being authentic: a psychologist superhero fighting her internal crime with media and her 21st-century communication superpower.