Mental illness is not something that immediately comes to mind when one thinks about characters from cartoons, comic strips and children’s books. However, if you were to use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to analyse the personalities of some fictional characters it may reveal the presence of mental illness. What theories would Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, have come up with if had been able to take a closer look at modern day fictional characters? Here we look at some possible diagnoses.
Marvin the Martian, created by Warner Brothers, always had one simple goal, namely to conquer Earth with his dog K-9. His life is marked by a fear of heights, which was caused when his mother left him hanging from the balcony of their home as a child. Perhaps for this reason and his diminutive stature, Marvin developed a "Napoleon complex", a very common syndrome in men with feelings of inferiority towards others. The name of this condition comes from a legend surrounding Napoleon Bonaparte, which states that the French emperor decided to conquer Europe to compensate for his lack of height.
Narcolepsy and dysthymia
Eeyore, the donkey friend of Winnie the Pooh, is a rather grumpy but loveable character in the series of books created by A. A. Milne. Once in land of nod it would seem that nothing is capable of waking him from his slumber. On deeper analysis, it could be that this donkey suffers from narcolepsy, a neurological disorder that causes sufferers to feel an irresistible sensation of sleepiness. Eeyore could also be diagnosed with dysthymia, a chronic form of depression.
Attention deficit disorder
Unlike Eeyore, Daffy Duck never seems to tire. It is possible that Daffy suffers from attention deficit disorder. Some of the symptoms of this disorder include forgetfulness, an inability to pay attention and an abundance of energy.
One symptom of this syndrome is the accumulation of useless objects. This is a behavioural disorder displayed by Ariel, the main character of Disney’s Little Mermaid. Ever since she was young, Ariel has horded objects from the surface world in a grotto. Perhaps the source of this disorder comes from the fact she has never accepted her mermaid body and has always dreamed of being human.
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Charlie Brown is the main character of the Peanuts comic strip, which follows the adventures of a gang of children and their friendly dog Snoopy. From the outset, Charlie displays some of the symptoms of anxiety disorder, such as feelings of inadequacy, hypersensitivity to rejection and avoidance of social interaction. He outlines all of these symptoms in discussions with the character Lucy van Pelt.
Dora the Explorer is a girl who seemingly cannot live without going on trips with the help of her map. Indeed, many of her journeys seem a little inappropriate for someone of such a tender age. However, it all makes sense if we diagnose Dora with dissociative fugue. People with this type of rare amnesia can take off from their home for periods ranging from hours, days or even months. During this time, the person may forget who they are or invent a new identity. Upon returning home, the sufferer has no memory of what they did during the period away.
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Intermittent explosive disorder
Homer Simpson is one of the most loved characters in the history of cartoons. However, it is unlikely that Bart Simpson considers his father’s sudden violent outbursts very funny. Indeed, Homer has on occasions tried to strangle his son. These impulses can be attributed to intermittent explosive disorder. This disorder manifests itself in spontaneous and extreme demonstrations of anger.
SpongeBob SquarePants is a cartoon character that is much loved by both children and adults. However, during his adventures in Bikini Bottom he displays certain characteristics closely related to Williams-Beuren syndrome, a neurodevelopmental disorder that makes people unusually happy and at ease around strangers. Throughout the show, SpongeBob is always shown as very cheerful, sociable and calm. He also displays some physical characteristics associate with the syndrome, such as low muscle tone.
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Calvin is the young star of the comic strip "Calvin and Hobbes". His imagination far exceeds that of any normal boy his age. For example, he has been known to take on the role of an astronaut and to believe that his parents are a pair of aliens who are out to harm him. Calvin's social life is non-existent and his only friend is Hobbes, a stuffed tiger that for him is real. Such hallucinations and social distancing could be read as signs of schizophrenia, a disease which leads sufferers to distort reality.
Multiple personality disorder
Bruce Banner was a scientist who worked on creating a gamma bomb. One day, his experiment exploded and the radioactive fallout changed him forever. Now each time he becomes enraged, Banner transforms into the Hulk, a green giant that can destroy anyone and anything in its path. In one issue of the comic, he undergoes hypnosis treatment and it is determined that there are at least three types of personalities living inside the Hulk.
Peter Pan syndrome and the Wendy dilemma
Both the "Peter Pan syndrome" and the "Wendy dilemma" are concepts invented by American psychologist Dan Kiley. They take their names from characters created by novelist J. M. Barrie. The first condition occurs in men who idealise youth and therefore never reach maturity. Peter Pan was the boy who could never grow up on the island of Neverland. The "Wendy dilemma" is associated with women who want to please all the wishes of their partners and children. Wendy is Peter Pan’s friend in the stories.