Was “Winnie-the-Pooh” mentally ill? An Interesting Assignment to Learn about Mental Illness
Submitted by Maureen Kroning, RN EdD
Written by Nicole Csutoros (BSN student) and Maureen Kroning RN EdD
Today, there exist so many various kinds of media including: books, magazines, newspapers, TV, movies, videos, smart phones, computer software and the uncountable sites one can access on the internet. The media is constantly bombarding us with so many messages many of which are subliminal or ostentatious. Subliminal messages from media often suggest what we should buy, how we should act and who we should be friends with. A recent assignment for a psychology class required students to analyze their favorite cartoon characters for signs and symptoms of mental illness. When you assess and analyze some of our favorite childhood cartoon characters some of them display signs and symptoms of mental illness. This assignment engages students to learn about what defining characteristics to look for when assessing patients for mental disorders and just how subliminal messages especially those that are negative can be harmful to our well-being.
According to BBC News (2009) “negative subliminal messages work. People can perceive subliminal messages, particularly if the message is negative”. According to Wikipedia the “Cultivation theory is a social theory which examines the long-term effects of television” and "The primary proposition of cultivation theory states that the more time people spend 'living' in the television world, the more likely they are to believe social reality portrayed on television."
According to the Journal of Postgraduate Medicine, there are positive and negative correlations between media and mental illness. The common view of the media showcasing mental disorders is that it can influence how these behaviors are portrayed and discussed and some believe that it can actually lead one to develop a mental disorder. For instance some believe that how the media portrays eating disorders, suicide, substance abuse, internet addictions, sexual behavior, depression, aggression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may actually be a risk factor to developing the mental illness. According to Padhy, Khatana & Sarkar (2014) watching tragic events in the media can produce PTSD symptoms in populations that are vulnerable such as our children. Approximately 5.4% of children, who indirectly through media coverage, witnessed the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001 developed symptomatic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (Padhy, Khatana & Sarkar).
Most of us watch T.V shows, go to the movies and read books containing characters we have come to love over the years yet, these same media outlets can also contain subliminal messages that also depict signs of major mental disorders. For instance, Winnie-the-Pooh and Rugrats are two shows that include characters that have been theorized to display a various number of mental disorders. According to mental health experts these shows depict various mental disorders in their plots and in the bright colors of their relatable characters. Analyzing the characters in Winnie-the-Pooh provided a good learning experience into the world of mental illness.
Winnie-the-Pooh is a classic children’s book that is told by the character Christopher Robin. In this book, Christopher Robin is a boy who imagines an array of characters from his stuffed animals in his room. The stuffed animals include: Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, Owl, Tigger, Kanga, Roo, Rabbit, and Eeyore. Christopher Robin gives each stuffed animal a personality and emotions and creates the world the animals both live and plays in. According to an article published by in the Canadian Medical Association Journal:
“Somewhere at the top of the Hundred Acre Wood a little boy and his bear play. On the surface it is an innocent world, but on closer examination by our group of experts we find a forest where neurodevelopmental and psychosocial problems go unrecognized and untreated”. “It is very likely that these characters represent feelings he experiences in his internal world… Each character could represent a different reaction or feeling within himself as he learns to cope and deal with that extra world” (Knowledge Guild).
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) analyzed each character in Winnie-the-Pooh and diagnosed each with a certain mental disorder. For instance, the main character in Winnie-the-Pooh is Christopher Robin, who the CMA diagnosed with Schizophrenia due to his imagination and creating auditory hallucinations. While, Winnie-the-Pooh was diagnosed with three different disorders, the first being Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHDD) due to his inattentiveness and being careless and indifferent towards his friends. The second mental disorder “Winnie Pooh” was diagnosed with was Impulsivity with obsessive fixations; the honey causes a strong pull to stop everything that is he doing to get his fix which could be also a sign of an eating disorder, binging, or that of a drug addict. The last disorder Winnie-the-Pooh was identified with was Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) as a result of his repetitive counting. Piglet, another character in Winnie-the-Pooh was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder for his lack of self-esteem and distinct speech impediment inflicted by his high stress levels, irrational anxiety and general nervousness. Owl yet another character in Winnie-the-Pooh was said to have dyslexia with his difficulty reading, even though he is extremely knowledgeable. Tigger another important character in Winnie-the-Pooh is thought to have ADHD like Pooh. However, Tigger displays a more severe case of ADHD for he was unable to control both his temperament and impulsive behaviors which could possibly lead to a substance abuse problem. Kanga and Roo, two other important characters in Winnie-the-Pooh were thought to show signs of Social Anxiety Disorder. Kanga is overly obsessed with controlling Roo and all of the danger that surrounded him, otherwise known as suffocation. Another character, Rabbit, shows signs of OCD with his obsession with over-organizing and order. Last to diagnosis was the character, Eeyore, who returned with Depressive Disorder. Eeyore’s general downcast on life has left him without enjoyable emotions which can be viewed as a sign of major depression and self-harm issues as hinted from him holding his tail on with a nail. The characters of Winnie-the-Pooh may not be the fun loving colorful characters we once perceived them to be but sadly characters wrecked with signs of mental illness.
Media today may be contributing negatively to the occurrence of mental illness and at the same time helping to reduce the stigma that surrounds many mental disorders. While viewing some of our favorite TV shows and analyzing their characters can help increase our knowledge of mental illness and decrease the negative stigma associated with these often debilitating disorders.
In conclusion, each one of us can probably reminisce about our favorite television programs from childhood and look back and wonder if there were subliminal messages that we may not have noticed. Perhaps a favorite character did act strange or maybe the plot seemed a little askew. Today, it appears that it is more common to have authors add subliminal messages to media productions. Winnie-the-Pooh may have been not been designed to introduce children to various mental disorders but when taking a closer look and analyzing the personalities of the show’s characters they did appear to display clinical manifestations of mental illness. It is important that media provides children shows that depicted happy well adjusted characters and that we as a society avoid the negative subliminal media messages that may adversely affect us. .
- BBC News (2009). Negative Subliminal Messages Work.
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2015). Children’s Mental Health
- Knowledge Guild (2012). The Mental Disorders of Winnie-the-Pooh Characters
- Padhy, S. K., S. Khatana, and S. Sarkar (2014). Media and Mental Illness: Relevance To India.
- Shea (2000). Pathology in the Hundered Acre Wood: a neurodevelopmental perspective on A.A. Milne. CMAJ
- Wikipedia. The Cultivation Theory.