“Conceal, Don’t Feel”: Disney’s “Frozen” and the stigma of mental illness

I’m gonna begin this post with some stats.  Because who doesn’t love some stats?
  • 57% of all adults believe that people are caring and sympathetic to persons with mental illness.
  • Only 25% of adults with mental health symptoms believe that people are caring and sympathetic to persons with mental illness.

(Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) surveyed adults in 37 states and territories about their attitudes toward mental illness)

Although I have been directly affected by it, and it kinda drives me crazy(er), I actually understand why there is such a stigma regarding mental illness in our society.  Unless I have a face and name to put to a particular issue, it is hard for me to comprehend it.  I think it’s the same with mental illness. If you intimately know someone that is struggling with a mental disorder, your heart is probably more open to researching their condition and attempting to understand them.  (God bless my inner circle. They try SO hard. hahaha)

Unfortunately, the stigma of mental illness creates shame in those suffering from it, which, in turn, creates silence, which perpetuates stigma because people are afraid to even talk about it (as I was, before hitting the “share” button on my first blog post.) As I have seen, with the overwhelmingly positive response to my own blog, as more and more people come forward and tell their stories about their struggles with mental illness, I do believe the stigma can and will (slowly) fade away.

The conversation needs to be ongoing. The silence needs to be continually broken.

So can we just converse about Disney’s latest film, “Frozen,” for a second?

I know it may be a long shot, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on this:

What do you think about “Frozen” being an allegory for mental illness?  

Could it be that Disney is subtly speaking out about the dangers of stigmatizing mental illness and the power that love and acceptance has in the lives of those affected?

Yes, I understand that it is the nature of literature and film that we see ourselves in the protagonists and antagonists of the art we consume. Sometimes it seems like every movie or book I read is “completely about my life.” I could be completely wrong. (I tried calling Disney, but Ariel said Mickey and Minnie were not available for comment. 🙂 ) But that’s not the point, really.  The conversation is the point.

I repeat: I could be wrong. But…I could be right.  🙂

Here are 8 reasons why I think Elsa’s character and her “powers” could be interpreted as one suffering from mental illness:

1. Elsa, one of the two main characters in the film, has a “condition” that is strongly linked to her emotions. She has a Spiderman-ish expulsion of ice from her hands that she cannot control. (This can be compared to mental illnesses that are linked directly with brain chemistry, causing emotions and outburts that are uncontrollable.  I constantly whispered to myself throughout the film, “omg I am Elsa.”  )

Youngelsa_frozen

2.  When she is little, Elsa accidentally hurts her sister, Anna, with her powers(I remember completely scaring the shit out of my siblings with outburts I could not control.)

3. Her parents become afraid that Elsa will grow to be completely uncontrollable.They choose to shield Anna and everyone else from Elsa’s powers by keeping them a secret.  They give her gloves to help control her ice powers. (Although my parents are champions in my corner now, they have admitted to, at one time, allowing stigma to seep into their minds about me. They never asked me to keep it a secret, though, and support this blog a thousand percent, which I love. Unfortunately, other parents are not so supportive, and many children and teens go undiagnosed because their parents are too afraid to have a son or daughter with something “wrong” with them, or, if they are diagnosed, it is kept completely on the low.)

4. ”Conceal. Don’t Feel” turns out to be Elsa’s mantra. (Um…yes.  I could write a blog entirely on the subject of trying to “control” one’s condition in a society that doesn’t understand it.  Actually I think that will be my next post.)

frozen1

5. Elsa learns to shut everybody out of her life, even those who desperately want to connect with her. (That song “Do You Want To Build A Snowman” slays my soul!!!  I can’t tell you how many times I have felt unlovable and incomprehensible so much so that I’ve locked myself away from the people that care about me. I honestly still do this. Everyone trying to love me deserves a trophy and a spa day.)

6.  Elsa has a public, embarrassing outburst, which causes much confusion and even some harsh criticism.  One man repeatedly calls her a “monster” and tries to convince everyone she is unfit to rule her kingdom.  ( Sadly, I know the pain and the backlash of a very public manic episode. I’ve never been called a “monster” to my face, but someone in my life once told me I may turn out to be an unfit mother. We’re no longer friends.)

disney killerhans

7. The public outburst causes Elsa to run away to the mountains by herself, where she slowly learns to accept, and even find beauty in her “condition.” (The lyrics of “Let It Go” turn me into a blubbering idiot.  My experience with bipolar disorder has caused much self-hatred and shame, but ultimately it is teaching me to accept every part of who I am as unique and beautiful…even the parts that scare people away.)

8. Ultimately, Love is what restores Elsa, Anna, and their kingdom back to peace and order.  It is that love that inspires the entire kingdom to accept and ultimately embrace Elsa’s condition. (I know for a fact that I would not be alive right now if it weren’t for the fierce love that I receive from my family and friends.  I believe that Love, as opposed to stigma and the self-hatred it inflicts upon millions of people, is ultimately the best medicine for mental illness.

Disclaimer for the mentally ill: THAT DOES NOT MEAN THAT YOU SHOULDN’T TAKE MEDICINE. GO TAKE YOUR MEDS. RIGHT NOW.)

____________________

There’s so much more that I’ve been thinking about, but those are just the main points.

Even if they weren’t trying to, Disney has started a conversation.

______________________

Stigma keeps us silent.

Stigma keeps us locked away from others.

Stigma banishes us to the outskirts of society.

But love and acceptance can heal.

In order to teach the mentally ill how to love themselves, we must first learn how to love them.

It starts with the conversation.  Let’s talk!

(That is, if you can get “Let It Go” out of your heads for a minute.)

HAVE A GREAT DAYYYYYY

37 Comments

  1. I haven’t seen Frozen yet but the way you explain it and make your comparisons is wonderful !! Sooooooo proud of you and so proud to be your Momma!! I love you

  2. This conversation about the stigma of mental illness is one we have a lot in the public defense context! Part of accepting a plea in criminal court requires that the judge ask the criminal defendant if he has ever suffered or is currently suffering the effects of a mental illness, which is asked in order to determine whether that may be playing a role in his agreeing to a plea. Anyway, today for instance, a defendant spoke Spanish and didn’t understand what was meant by “mental illness” so the judge was trying to explain in simple words what it means. First he said, “it means to be mentally ill,” which of course was super helpful. Then he landed on “having something wrong in your head.” Putting aside the issue with allowing a person to enter into a legal agreement in a language they don’t speak without using a translator, it was striking to me that even if the defendant had a history of mental illness, admitting to a room full of people from his community that he has “something wrong with his head” was unlikely something he would be comfortable doing. It took so long for mental illness to even become a consideration in the criminal court context, it’s so unfortunate that it’s now viewed as an excuse for bad behavior or a reason that a person can’t make decisions for himself, when it should be used in a way that gets people access to the mental health care they need. Making people talk about it…even in a context that may not be entirely comfortable…is the only way to change that. Keep doing what you do, girl…you’re helping more people than you know!! ❤

    1. CARA. You are brilliant. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It’s so interesting to me to hear about what you think about it from a legal standpoint. Very cool. I am so proud of you and all you are accomplishing! YOU will help people, too! I always knew you would.

  3. Hello,
    I’m a 26 year old girl living in Turkey, and as I also have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I thought about the same things as I watched Frozen. I’m so happy that I came across your blog through PDAN Facebook page. I’ll start following your blog rightaway! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Hello,
    I am in my 20s, and I’ve been battling similar issues for a while. Coincidentally, I just watched Frozen today, and really related to the character of Elsa (not to mention Let it Go turned me into an absolute mess when I first heard it). Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It’s so refreshing to have someone speaking candidly about these issues when society tends to shove them under the rug.
    I admire your honesty, and I look forward to following you on your journey! Please feel free to check out my blog as well: alisayui.wordpress.com.

  5. I am actually a psychotherapist who specializes in anxiety and depression related disorders. I saw the movie and did not immediately see the parallels as you did, however, I can understand why you would so easily relate given the similarities. As you said, when you become emotionally involved in a good storyline it is easy to connect with the main characters and identify closely with their struggles. This one obviously struck a chord with you. Thank you for bringing that insight forward.

    I think there are many parallels to be seen through the character of Elsa. I have a close friend who is an artist. Most artists are odd, misunderstood, and see the world through a different lens. They feel a little more deeply, often express themselves unusually, are socially awkward, and eventually find their voice and a way to make the world a more beautiful place in the end (much like Elsa). There are many parallels in this story that would make for great conversational topics.

    I appreciate your transparency and vulnerability in your post. The misunderstood often feel (and often are) cast aside. It’s only when we begin openly talking about these things that people can begin to understand and accept those in that particular struggle. It takes courage to step out and say, “This is who I am. It’s not everything God has for me yet, but He’s still working with me on it….but for now, this is me, flaws and all.” I love and appreciate people with that attitude. Thank you for posting this.

    1. Mark, you are so awesome! Thank you for taking the time to read and even comment. It means so much to me that people are responding so personally to my writing. I love the idea of a parallel with the movie and the artistic temperament. Believe it or not, that’s actually something that has crossed my mind! I am reading Kay Redfield Jamison’s “Touched With Fire: Manic Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament,” so this topic was fresh on my brain! Please keep reading and commenting! Also, if you’re on Facebook, add me and we can be friends! (Genevieve Borges Simpson.) Thank you so much again!

  6. I got linked to this post from a friend, and just wanted to say thanks for writing it. I’m autistic, and for me, Elsa had many of the same parallels you spotted, but as applied to my own experience growing up autistic and having people treat me in very similar ways due to the same stigma. I think “invisible disabilities” might be a good descriptor. But then again, as you say, “Yes, I understand that it is the nature of literature and film that we see ourselves in the protagonists and antagonists of the art we consume.” – for me, the connections were to my own life from a slightly different lens from yours, but so very similar in so many ways.

    Normally I don’t leave links in comments, (so I won’t be offended if you remove it) but I would like to share with you my take on Frozen and Elsa – you might find some new parallels to think about 🙂 http://thethirdglance.wordpress.com/2013/12/21/disneys-frozen-and-autism/

  7. I just came across this post while researching to write a similar one of my own. I cried. I have borderline personality disorder and Let it Go is my new anthem. (I’m a singer and I diva out a little when it comes on). don’t let anyone tell you that your mental illness will make you An unfit mother. I am A mother of 2 and all the statistics say it with BPD I am much more likely to abuse and neglect my children. it was a struggle but from everything I hear so is parenting without a mental disorder.

  8. I’m just going to comment on every post and read your whole blog probably. I had refused to watch Frozen but now I am probably going to go watch it and cry haha.

  9. Thanks for writing this! I wrote a post about Frozen and Elsa too that you might like if you want to to check it out: http://www.changeyourmusic.com

    I think now that she more closely represents someone who has been abused – like a should-be-foster child, partly because love doesn’t cure mental illness the way it cures Elsa, but I have yet to write that post 🙂

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