Is it OK to diagnose Winnie the Pooh and friends with mental illness?

by Cody Dolan on February 9, 2011 · 5 comments

in mental health,stigma

If the Internet has been good for one thing, it’s the warping or tarnishing of childhood icons. Sadly, you don’t have to look far to find images of your favorite cartoon character that wouldn’t be out of place in an R-rated movie.

It’s also not difficult to find interpretations of classic cartoon figures that are just depressing. On the Internet, you’ll learn that Mickey Mouse is really a symbol of American imperialism. You’ll read detailed breakdowns of how the Scooby Doo gang was either doing or selling drugs. Or you’ll find “evidence” that characters designed for children suffered from mental illness.

Winnie the Pooh and friends

Because I know you might not believe me, allow me to share with you a few GIFs (GIF stands for graphics interchange format, which is basically a low-resolution way to animate images online) that make it look like characters from Winnie the Pooh are in need of treatment. These were all created by Matthew Wilkinson for his Tumblr page, and they’ve since spread to every corner of the Internet.

Thinking it through

I’m of two minds when it comes to these images: on one hand, they’re a bit brilliant. A sullen stuffed grey donkey sitting on a lonely rock in a rainstorm would seem to accurately and astutely embody what we popularly think of as depression. The continual, compulsive rearranging of objects on a table (in this case performed by a rabbit) plays to the accepted idea of what it means to have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Watching Piglet cover his ears and shake his head makes me feel quite anxious, and I bet if you looked at the image long enough you’d feel the same way.

On the other hand, these GIFs trivialize and undermine what it means to have serious mental illness. People with schizophrenia are in real pain; they’re not simply rocking back and forth and talking to themselves. Their thinking process disintegrates, as does their emotional responsiveness. They hallucinate or have delusions.

My wife has taught more than a few children with ADHD, and if all they had done was wiggle their eyebrows excessively her life would’ve been a lot easier. Instead, her students were easily distracted, disrupted class by asking questions that had already been answered, couldn’t sit still no matter what and behaved in ways that interfered with not just their learning, but the education of every other kid in the class.

A different kind of psychology

These GIFs represent “movie psychology,” and that’s hardly a good thing. I’m sure Mr. Wilkinson has seen As Good As It Gets, and so that’s what he thinks someone with OCD does all the time. I’m sure he thinks anxiety is a legitimate diagnosis, when in reality it’s more of a catch-all term that could mean any number of disorders.

How do these animations make you feel? Are you upset because Piglet is so unhappy? Are you amused by the Tigger’s dopey smile? How much attention do these deserve?  Let us know in the comments.

Editor’s note: if you enjoyed this post, you might want to check out some of Cody’s other posts:

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February 11, 2011 at 11:22 am

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan Weinman February 29, 2012 at 5:49 am

take a look at this kid’s tumbler page, obviously someone just investigating life. Nothing more than that.

Just V February 11, 2012 at 6:50 am

Actually the Canadian Medical Association Journal did a study that diagnosed the characters of Winnie the Pooh as having mental disorders. These were smack dab in the middle of the mental illness. It all checks out perfectly. Have you never seen this tv show? I watched it as a kid and it makes perfect sense. Everyone knows Eeyore is depressed. He keeps saying things that clinically depressed people would. And I knew that the Rabbit is probably OCD and the pictures above say that. If you see the tv show, you could easily see how obsessive-compulsive the rabbit is about his garden, he won’t let anybody make a mess of it. He would prefer things his way to the point of losing his friends. The images above are pretty accurate. Although I saw one that claims Winnie the Pooh has an eating disorder, which I do agree would not really be even close to the kind of eating disorder people generally have. Writers of cartoons usually have certain ideas when they create characters. Doing this may have helped little kids learn to express their feelings, so it wasn’t a bad idea.

Dari March 7, 2011 at 11:41 pm

I like the images, simple and cheerful. One thing I’ve lost is a sense of humor due to my anxiety disorder, and this light touch is a blessing. Whatever It Takes to heal . . . TTFN (tatafornow)

jay February 14, 2011 at 10:46 pm

I think these images will make good posters to make children get a feel of the respective emotions, symptoms or disorders. Look at them that way.

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