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Mental Illness in Children's Films

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on 21 November 2013

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Transcript of Mental Illness in Children's Films

Mental Illness Depictions In Children's Movies
What is Mental Illness?
“A mental or bodily condition marked primarily by sufficient disorganization of personality, mind, and emotions to seriously impair the normal psychological functioning of the individual”
A More Accurate Depiction: Finding Nemo
How is the industry side of media not only combatting but creating these representation?
Negative Depiction:
The Little Mermaid
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
His Signs/Symptoms
Constantly worried about situations he's in
Becomes anxious every time Ariel goes off on one of her adventures
During his "anxiety attacks" he shakes constantly, which is a severe symptom of anxiety disorders
Her Signs/Symptoms
Finds great interest in random items that don't apply to her
Doesn't get rid of any items that she collects and keeps it all hidden or locked up
Has the need to collect and find
random items and shows signs of affection/relationship for them
Disposophobia (Compulsive Hoarding)
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Her Signs/Symptoms
Really focused on herself
Main goal is to establish herself as Ruler of the Sea
Her use of Ariel to become ruler is a portrayal of lack of empathy for others
Disposophobia (Compulsive Hoarding)
Person has a relationship with or holds onto a large amount of seemingly useless and valueless objects
Results in a clutter or mess that can become destructive to a person’s life, causing unnecessary distress, illness, or impairment
Not allow visitors
Arguments about clutter
Often categorized under OCD
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Person affected is often anxious or worries about many seemingly trivial things that leads to a feeling of being overwhelmed
Has a hard time trying to control this anxiety that has been created
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Feels an unwarranted sense of self-importance
Become severely preoccupied with themselves
Short-term Memory Loss
Form of amnesia
Cannot remember recent events that have happened
Hard to create new memories
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
Type of anxiety disorder
Stems from a severe emotional trauma that usually involves the threat of injury or death
Why Is It Negative?
Research found in the study “Mental Illness in Disney Animated Films” shows that up until 2004, “85.1% of Disney films contain verbal references to mental illness, with an average of 4.6 references per film.”
“Children who watch animated films of TWDC are exposed to a greater incidence of mental illness than they may experience in their everyday lives.”
If Disney portrays these mental illnesses incorrectly or in a negative way,
Young viewers may learn to label and stereotype others
Young children many acquire an unrealistic view of individuals with mental illnesses
People with such mental illnesses may be affected negatively by incorrect portrayals by their recovery time from mental illness
It exaggerates the Generalized Anxiety Disorder
He gets made fun of by Ariel
He’s only portrayed with his anxious characteristics
Disney adds a comical effect to when Ariel is fascinated by forks
Sebastian looks at Ariel like she’s crazy
The New York Times pointed out that Ariel’s character comes off as witty due to her love of forks. When in reality, she actually has a mental illness
With the character Ursula, Disney completely exaggerates the Narcissistic Personality Disorder and adds in other incorrect traits.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder has no ties with violence
Disney creates a sort of stereotype of Narcissistic Personality Disorder that may lead viewers to think that people with such diseases will be evil or wicked people with violent acts such as Ursula’s characters.
When children's films depict mental illnesses, they are priming children to recognize and react to mental disorders. While this has traditionally resulted in negative stereotypes and stigmas, there are films that portray mental illnesses in accurate and non-demeaning ways that help children better understand these disorders.
Dory's character is "an accurate portrayal of the considerable memory difficulties faced daily by people with profound amnesiac syndromes."
“The frustration of the other fish around her with constant repetition also accurately reflects the feelings of people who live with amnesiac patients.”
In addition, despite her disorder being played for loss, Dory comes across at times as “alone, lost and profoundly confused.”
What About Marlin?
According to the DSM-V, most likely exhibiting symptoms of PTSD:
“Witnessing, in person, the [traumatic event] as it occurred to others”
“Intense or prolonged psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event”
“Avoidance of or efforts to avoid external reminders that arouse distressing memories, thoughts, or feelings about or closely associated with the traumatic event”
“Persistent negative emotional state” and “hypervigilance”
Miscellaneous Fish
Examples of neuroatypical characters
“Gurgle…is obsessed with germ free cleanliness”
“Deb…routinely misrecognizes herself in reflection from the tank wall as an imaginary twin sister, Flo.”
Ultimately help teach Nemo a lesson in working together and family—good role models
Why Is This Important?
According to the authors of “Images of Mental Illness in the Media: Identifying Gaps in the Research” there are higher instances of negative portrayal in children’s media in the United States (i.e. linking characters who exhibit symptoms of mental disorders with violence and criminality ) than positive responses
They also conclude that “media images of mental illness can influence public knowledge and attitudes about mental illness”
Finding Nemo is uncommon in its depiction of protagonists with a variety of mental disorders, as well as its depiction of different characters exhibiting these disorders as role models, casting them in a positive light and de-stigmatizing them
“Dory assumes agency in the plot” and she “initiates communication with many other species that results in progress for the journey”
She progresses Marlin’s journey by:
Reading the address on the diver's mask
Encouraging him to "just keep swimming"
Speaking whale, ultimately bringing them to their desired destination
Finding Nemo and bringing him back to Marlin
His concerns are legitimized by others, especially towards the end
The symptoms of his PTSD are in part what drive him in such an intense manner to find Nemo when he is captured by divers
He eventually compromises with Nemo, both of them coming to an understanding about the other’s concerns
There has been an increase in the number of efforts towards the improvement of media images concerning mental illnesses (Wahl)
Representations of mental illnesses in the media can have positive effects
Need for transparency and dialogue
Wrap Up
How can we accurately portray an issue that is individualistic?
NAMI Stigma Busters
Representatives to Media Companies
Harvard's Center for Mental Health and Media
Entertainment Industry Council
Mission: "To bring the power and influence of the entertainment industry to bear on health and social issues"
With these councils and forums, why is there still misrepresentation?
Thematic use
Not using resources
"I'm pretty sure there's a lot more to life than being really, really, ridiculously good looking. And I plan on finding out what that is."
Films have the potential to create negative stereotypes and stigmas based on their representations.
Positive media portrayal of people with mental illnesses may lead to Destigmatization of these individuals in society.
The media industry has taken strides to improve upon the representations of mental illnesses in film, but there is still much to be done.
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