This is my first real article on this site, and I intend it to be the start of a multipart series looking into how Disney movies help to teach us, however subtly, about the world of mental health. Similar articles may have been written, I'm bringing my own perspective as a mental health consumer, however. I'm far from ashamed of my illness, so I'm proud to see the hints in Disney about mental health!
I'm starting with Frozen because I find it most obvious. Still, even with a diagnosis of major depression it took me a couple months after seeing the film for the first time to notice the connection. The hype for the movie was on the bond of sisters, the strong female lead, and the fact that Elsa didn't need a man.
So, let's look at Frozen through the mental health lens and see how Elsa represents someone with a mental health condition, specifically major depression. For this, we make her powers symbolic of the illness.
As someone who has both major depression and borderline personality, I know I've done things that could or have harmed others only to hugely regret them later. For instance keeping secrets I shouldn't have, because I wanted to be "cool" despite knowing that I should tell. My desperation to be accepted was greater than my desire to protect.
In the movie frozen, Elsa accidentally hurt her sister, something that then spiraled her deeper into the fear that fueled her powers, or the metaphor for depression.
In the world, mental illness is often met with fear, shame, and denial. Conceal, don't feel. Don't let them know. Elsa spent her childhood terrified of the powers, of this thing that was "wrong with her" that she couldn't control. So many young people go undiagnosed because they don't know what's going on, they are told they over react or are over dramatic, making a big deal of nothing, to suck it up. To conceal, rather than feel.
And if someone is found to be mentally ill, people are scared. They are seen as unstable, as bound to snap at any moment. As dangerous, like a witch. So it's little wonder people hesitate to seek help. Little wonder they would rather let go of the world they know and live in a kingdom of isolation, where they are the queen of everything that exists and happens.
With many people, the reluctance to accept help is so great that even a well meaning family member offering to face things with them is a frightening concept. They don't want to drag others down, and they are so used to the self imposed solitude they don't want to come out of it. They push these people away, hurting them if necessary just so that they feel safe and isolated themselves.
But if the family member is gentle yet persistent, acknowledging that they can't force the depressed party to seek help if they don't want it, but always willing to support them, eventually they may break through, and healing can begin through love.
I've also noticed that other characters might represent aspects of depression. Such as Olaf, who doesn't have much experience with "heat" or as I might suggest, happiness. When one has lived with untreated depression long enough, one can forget what happiness even feels like. I've been there. And I spent time longing for it, as Olaf long for summer.
And there are those of us who get so jaded by society that we feel our pets are our only friends, the only ones who understand us. It's easier to bond with animals than humans, such as Kristoff's bond with Sven. We've all had moments where "reindeer are better than people," substituting whatever our preferred animal is for reindeer. My cat was my best friend most of my life, and I converse with birds. Yes, present tense. I'm weird. It was easier than dealing with people I felt hated by.
The bottom line is, this movie is a great representation of depression in my mind. Watch it through that lens, and you might see something new!