All Elite Wrestling

AEW’s Adam Page is One of TV’s Best Representations of Mental Illness

Television and film have long had a problem with the way they portray mental illness. Both mediums tend to lean into one of two extremes: a character suffers from a trainwreck mental illness, then dies by suicide (as in The Dead Poet Society) or their illness is a collection of visual and auditory hallucinations (as in every horror movie that treads the “Hallucination or Real [Insert Monster Here]” line). For a long time, professional wrestling has been worse, with World Wrestling Entertainment portraying mental illness in characters like Festus, “The Corn-Fed Colossus”—a mentally disabled man who turns into a dominant force after hearing the ring bell. Despite that history, All Elite Wrestling‘s Adam “Hangman” Page has built one of the most nuanced and accurate portrayals of high-performing anxiety and depression on television.

Hangman debuted with AEW at the promotion’s Double or Nothing 2019 pay-per-view, winning the Casino Battle Royale to earn a chance to face Chris Jericho to be the first-ever AEW Champion. His mental health struggles started after he lost that match at All Out 2019. He seems to suffer from the frequently comorbid illnesses, anxiety and depression. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “Some estimates show that 60% of those with anxiety will also have symptoms of depression, and the numbers are similar for those with depression also experiencing anxiety.” Both illnesses are caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors but generally begin with a “trigger or stressor,” which in the case of Page was losing that title match.

After his defeat, he did what many people with depression do and “withdr[ew] from others.” He distanced himself from his friends in the Elite, quitting the group, though they did not initially accept his resignation. He formed a tag-team with Kenny Omega, who remains very much a part of the Elite, and the two of them went on to win the AEW Tag Team Championships on the January 22nd episode of Dynamite—the first title change in the young company’s history. In spite of the success he was having with Omega, Hangman was drinking heavily while on television, taking beers from fans and bringing glasses of liquor to interviews.

Drinking has a long history in professional wrestling. The most famous example is Stone Cold Steve Austin. Part of the Texas Rattlesnake’s gimmick was bashing two beers together and dumping them into his mouth. Fans have reacted to Hangman’s drinking the way Austin had conditioned them too: with cheers and signs asking Hangman to drink their beer. But the people around him reacted differently, with his one-time friends from the Elite, the Young Bucks, publicly criticizing him. Unlike Austin, Hangman appeared visibly drunk in interviews, his words slurred and his eyes bleary. Hangman’s drinking isn’t cool. It’s self-medicating, using alcohol “to mask symptoms of a mental health issue.”
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His mental illness and his drinking have gotten worse as time passes. He began the first-ever Stadium Stampede match at Double or Nothing 2020 in the bar, overlooking the field where his friends the Elite were fighting against the Inner Circle. On the August 27th edition of Dynamite, he interfered in the Young Bucks gauntlet match, costing them a rematch for his and Omega’s tag team titles. He and Omega lost the titles to FTR at Revolution 2020, the team that the Young Bucks would have faced in the gauntlet if Hangman hadn’t distracted them. As a result, The Bucks kicked him out of the Elite, the group Hangman had wanted to quit almost a year earlier.

When his motives were discussed, Omega and FTR implied it was Hangman’s insecurities that led him to interfere in the Bucks match. Omega abandoned Hangman at that point as well. For weeks after, Hangman and Omega were offered tag team matches but Omega refused to compete at Hangman’s side, doing commentary instead. Hangman has been isolated, which aggravates both depression and addiction.

What might be most telling, and the best part of this portrayal, is how much filtering Hangman does. During an interview on the November 4th episode of Dynamite, Jim Ross asked a clearly drunk Hangman if he was nervous for his upcoming match against his former tag team partner, Kenny Omega. Hangman answered, “I’m nervous… The first day we started this company, I said I was going to be the first AEW champion. I don’t think anyone believed it but me. And they were right. And Saturday will be the closest I’ve gotten to a shot at that title since then. And if I don’t win, I don’t know what I got other than this glass of whiskey.”

In this segment, it’s clear that for Hangman his loss to Jericho is the defining moment of his AEW career. Hangman is engaging in at least two cognitive distortions, a symptom of both anxiety and depression, here: filtering and black-and-white thinking. When a person is filtering, they “take the negative details and magnif[y] those details while filtering out all positive aspects of a situation.” Which is absolutely what Hangman is doing. He was one-half of the longest-reigning AEW tag team champions and has earned a 25-12 (19-5 in 2020) record at the time of this writing.

The black-and-white thinking is a variation on filtering, where a person has “to be perfect or [they’re] a complete and abject failure — there is no middle ground.” Again, it’s clear that Hangman’s time as a tag-team champion and his stellar win-loss record is a lot more than a glass of whiskey. The way he’s thinking of himself as a failure is a cognitive distortion.

He lost that match at Full Gear 2020. While he hasn’t given any interviews since that loss, he did make another appearance on the pay-per-view, in what was another clear visual representation of mental illness. As his former friends the Young Bucks and Kenny Omega celebrated in the ring, Hangman stood in the tunnel, watching. All he’s got in his hands is a glass of whiskey. From his posture, it’s clear that he’s still feeling like a failure, despite all the success he’s had.

I feel so strongly about the way Hangman is portrayed because I struggle with high-performing anxiety and depression as well. I too have seen myself as an abject failure despite the objective evidence that proves otherwise. I don’t see myself in the lazily written TV and film characters whose mental illnesses are represented in their squalor or who have lost their grasp on reality. While I can’t speak for anyone else, I don’t imagine the 18.1% of American adults or 3.8% of adults worldwide suffering from anxiety do either. Which is what makes Adam Hangman Page’s nuanced portrayal of mental illnesses so much more important. He’s an inspiration, someone else who feels like a failure but still gets out of bed and fights with everything he’s got.

  1. The story was also continued on their youtube show Being the Elite where the Bucks & Omega were celebrating their victories at Full Gear and Page overheard them celebrating down the hall. He stopped outside of their room and was visibly trying to get himself to at least congratulate them but instead walked off to go to the bar in the Dark Order’s room aka the people that hate him and were chanting f**k Hangman. He then chanted that along with them and left

  2. Wonderful article, thank you. Hangman Page is wonderful and my favorite wrestler today, watching a modern day Magnum TA deal with anxiety and depression, telling a YEARS long story, is just one of my favorite things in wrestling history.

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