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:

Be Sociable, Share!