When you look at everything that goes on across the whole of the franchise, from TOS to Discovery, even including the novels and other non-cannon source material, you’d think that there would be far more cases of mental breakdown among Starfleet officers than you see.
There are episodes where officers mind-meld. Their bodies rapidly age or they’re turned into children again. They end up sharing a body with an alien consciousness. Sometimes there’s a need to temporarily play host to an alien symbiant like what goes on with the Trill. What if you encounter a probe that makes you live out an entire lifetime in an alien culture within the span of just under an hour? How about being trapped in a time loop where you’re ship keeps getting destroyed? Yeah, there were two different episodes about that in TNG alone. And don’t get me started on being ‘The Emissary’, getting assimilated by the Borg, or ‘the Year from Hell’.
In all seriousness, I doubt there’s any conditioning or training that can truly prepare every officer for these kinds of encounters. And it’s usually not just one and done. Everyone gets forced to deal with all kinds of crazy crap.
Dr. Crusher falls in love with a mediator who ends up injured. She finds out his essence is actually an organism within the host body of the person she thought she was in a relationship with. That organism gets transplanted into Riker as a stopgap until a new Trill host can be found. While Odan is in Riker, they try to resume the relationship but it’s just too weird for Crusher. Then when the Trill host arrives, it gets even more uncomfortable for her because Odan is now a woman. I give props to the writers for not making her discomfort be overtly about Odan being implanted in a woman and more about the rapidly shifting of identity that went on throughout the episode.
Dr. Crusher also has an incident where she ends up trapped in a static warp bubble her son is experimenting with in main engineering. Slowly, her universe starts to disappear and collapse and she has to devise a way to escape before she disappears too. She literally watches the world around her disappear piece by piece, and those who are present don’t seem to notice. They constantly gaslight her, telling her “this is just how it’s always been”.
Dr. Crusher temporarily shares a mental link with Picard after being captured by a dissident faction. They have to figure out how to survive long enough for the Enterprise to locate and rescue them. If they travel too far from one another, the link weakens and they suddenly become very ill. As a result of this joining, they are able to hear one another’s thoughts and it contributes to the deepening of their relationship. But my god, they’re psychically linked! That ain’t normal!
Dr. Crusher finds a candle that somehow houses the essence of a ‘ghost’ who turns out to be a parasitic energy being that’s been preying on the women in her family for generations. She ends up obsessed with this ‘ghost’ and the pleasure he gives her to the point where it compromises her judgement.
And that’s just to name a few things! On top of all the shit Dr. Crusher has to deal with being the chief medical officer on the Federation’s flagship! Exobiology ain’t an easy field, I can assure you!
Now imagine all the other officers and the things they’ve gone through! It doesn’t even have to be that remarkable! Think of all the times the Enterprise has gone into battle. They’ve fought the Klingons, the Romulans, the Cardassians, the Dominion (it’s not in the television shows but I have a hard time believing the Flagship stayed out of the fighting during the war), the Farengi, the Borg, weathered energy-consuming-radiation-generating traps, collided with not one but two quantum filaments, suffered computer breakdowns, engine breakdowns, and other events that don’t require a log entry that serves as the first time that particular phenomenon has been recorded.
What if there was a version of Trek where just one or a handful of these incidents rendered several officers no longer able to function as crew? What if Picard is deemed unfit for duty after being rescued from the Borg? Or the lifetime he spent as Kamin, on the planet Kataan, compressed into less than an hour, fundamentally changes who he is and he is psychologically unable to go back to being Picard?
I feel like there’s some comedy angle that could be taken with this. I picture a hospital filled with former captains and other officers who have been irrevocably altered by their experiences in deep space pursuing the mandate to explore.
“Here we see Commander Thompson. He was first officer aboard the USS Gibraltar.”
“Why is he covered in mud and trying to mimic the sound of a frog?”
“On the last mission he was assigned to, he encountered an alien consciousness that used him as a conduit to speak to the captain. Or at least that’s what the consciousness said it was trying to do when it finally realized there was a designated communication-through-possession android on board. It spent three hours linked with the Commander putting him through the experiences of life found on the world the consciousness originated from trying to figure out our language. Smarftu’lor was a little too over-eager to talk to someone since he had been alone for more than ten thousand years. Poor Commander Thompson’s neural patterns got scrambled and so now he thinks he’s a Terrizian Bullfrog.”
“Oh! That’s dreadful!”
“It’s not so bad. The misting sprayers kick on five times a day to make sure everything stays nice and damp the way he likes it, and he gets all the flies he can eat.”
“Will he ever be himself again?”
“Probably not, but it’s okay. He seems pretty happy like this. Now moving on, you’ll get to meet former Chief Engineer Harris. He’s in to have his coat shaved for summer. He got bitten by a Rigelian wolf-bat which infected him with a strain of virus we had never seen before. It imprinted the wolf-bat’s DNA onto his. Harris is the first real-life werewolf we’ve ever documented! Unfortunately, he was unable to continue his duties as Chief Engineer after the transformation took place.”
“Because he was too violent and put the crew in danger?”
“Oh no, no, no! The transformation actually made him more outgoing and extroverted! He says he wasn’t much of a people person before. No, he had to resign his commission because the sounds of the ship were slowly driving him insane. He says he could hear every insignificant hum, whine, and creak of every door, relay, and light on board. We’ve been putting him through a form of therapy that’s training him to block out certain sounds unless he focuses on them.”
I kind of wish ‘The Orville’ touched on this sort of thing, but whatever. Maybe someone like Yahtzee Croshaw will write a book about exactly this concept.
I’d read the shit out of that.