While it may sound like a silly exercise to diagnose movie and TV characters, you would be hard-pressed to find a character who doesn’t exhibit some possible signs of mental illness. Considering that ordinary isn’t very exciting, most characters have little quirks in their characters to make them stand out. Now, we don’t want to make light of mental illness, but we did want to take a look at some of the most famous characters who might be considered as sufferers of different types of mental illnesses. In doing something like this, we run the risk of generalizing an illness or of simplifying a diagnosis. We’re not medical professionals. We’re just having some fun with some of the most extremely written characters in popular fiction.
There’s a really good chance that you’ve considered many of these yourself. Some of these characters have been singled out in many different places for having what appears to be mental issues. It will be interesting to see how these types of characters are treated moving forward in time. As we move into new eras and gain new perspectives, we will undoubtedly look differently at characters from the past. Many films that were not considered sexist, racist, or bigoted in the past have been written off as hugely offensive these days. That’s a slippery slope, so we don’t want to be misinterpreted. We’re just having fun with characters. We certainly are not saying that everyone should reinterpret these characters as mentally ill, but the evidence is there. Here are 15 Characters You Never Realized Had a Mental Illness.
15. Captain Hook – PTSD
It’s easy to spot Captain Hook’s mental issues. He clearly suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Since Hook’s hand was cut off and fed to a crocodile, he has been terrified of the creature. In the original stories, Hook was also terrified of seeing his own blood. In the Disney films, since the crocodile, Tick-Tock, swallowed an alarm clock, the sound of a clock signals his arrival and scares Hook easily. For that reason, a ticking clock is a major trigger for Hook, inciting terror in the Captain whenever one is heard. Interestingly, J.M. Barrie, the author who created that world, was partly inspired to create Peter Pan, the boy who would never grow up, because his mother was left devastated by the death of one of Barrie’s brothers. The mother was said to take great comfort in the idea that her dead child would never grow up. So, being haunted by something would be a concept very close to Barrie’s heart.
14. The Driver – Aspergers
In the film Drive, we see Ryan Gosling‘s character, the Driver, exhibit some signs that might indicate that he is on the autism spectrum. He is very socially awkward, speaks little, makes eye contact rarely, and keeps to himself. His social awareness seems to be desperately lacking. He isn’t brooding or staying quiet to interest others. He’s quiet because he clearly feels incapable of engaging with other humans. He also has an obsessive personality with his interests—in this case, cars. Truly, we believe that the Driver starts off more machine than man, and the movie shows his growth into…er…a real human being. Yet, if we’re playing the game of diagnosing fictional character, then the Driver seems to fit the bill for Aspergers or Autism of some sort.
13. Rose – Depression
There’s been a theory circulating arguing that Jack in Titanic was simply a figment of Rose’s depressed mind. Whether you subscribe to this thinking or not, the evidence that Rose was depressed is very much there. She was rich, which is usually the remedy for all illnesses, but not in this case. Rose was clearly mistreated by her mother. She was trapped in a loveless marriage. And she was a generally unhappy woman. This is why she tried to commit suicide in the worst way possible, by jumping off the Titanic and drowning in ice cold water.
12. Elsa – Agoraphobia
While Agoraphobia can take many different shapes, most people believe it to be a fear of public spaces or a fear of crowded spaces. While these places can often be triggers, most people have a difficult time understanding agoraphobia because saying it like that sounds irrational. In essence, most sufferers of agoraphobia suffer from panic attacks and the fear of going out boils down to a fear of having a panic attack in public. Anyone who’s ever had a panic attack knows just how important privacy is. So now, consider Elsa from Frozen. She’s terrified of going out because she’s terrified of her powers being put on display. Now, since panic attacks would be the worst power ever, it might seem a bit of a stretch to compare the two, but really, it makes sense. Elsa only sees the damage her powers do. Imagine if an agoraphobe’s panic attacks made beautiful rainbows for others to see. They still wouldn’t want to go through that because they are so difficult to shut off and control. Once they start, they spiral. Just like Elsa’s powers.
11. Captain America – Depression
The Captain America character in the MCU is a classic case of a man suffering from depression. You have the fans who say this is obvious and the fans who refuse to acknowledge it. The signs are there. He suffered greatly in the war and woke up to a different age, an age in which he is not necessarily needed. There’s perhaps no scene that better illustrates his issues as in the nightmare scene in Age of Ultron. The Scarlet Witch messes with everyone’s mind so they face their nightmares, and Captain America’s nightmare is a victory party. Since the war ending would be the end of his usefulness, Captain America dreads this. Since the war is over in the real world, Cap is living his nightmare in many ways.
10. The Hundred Acre Wood – Mixed Bag
Although it had been discussed many times before, it was a paper called “Pathology in the Hundred Acre Wood: a neurodevelopmental perspective on A.A. Milne” that opened up people’s eyes to just how vivid the depictions of untreated mental illness were in the Winnie the Pooh stories. If you’ve never noticed the connections before, they’re extremely potent. We start with Christopher Robin, the boy who creates these delusions in his mind. He may have some issues, but then again, it’s called imagination. The others aren’t so easily defended, though. Piglet is a nervous wreck, clearly suffering from social anxiety disorder. Winnie the Pooh has a laundry list of issues, including an eating disorder and ADHD to name a couple. We see a picture of obsessive-compulsive disorder in Rabbit, who keeps his house impeccably clean and loses it when things are taken out of order, and Tigger who has never sat still once, clearly showing signs of hyperactivity and ADHD as well. Finally, who can forget Eeeyore? That poor, poor donkey has long been the model for those suffering from crippling depression.
9. Teddy – Aspergers
It seems that there are countless characters on television who are caricatures of autism and aspergers, such as Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. Many of these characters are over-the-top in their depictions, like Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. Some, however, like Teddy from Bob’s Burgers, play the part a little more subtly. Obviously, if Teddy did have autism, he would be on the very high functioning scale. He’s fairly successful, independent, and quite clever. Where he struggles is with social etiquette, changing of routines, such as when there are no fries with his burger, and handling his emotional issues. When it comes to decisions, there’s no one worse than Teddy on Bob’s Burgers, often going back and forth multiple times in his head. He’s not the most crudely drawn person on the spectrum, such as Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, but he’s very likely on it. Some people question if Tina also has autism, but this has been addressed on the show and she does not have it.
8. Ariel – Body Dysmorphic Disorder
Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is a condition that affects people who perceive a flaw in their body. Honestly, if we were to explain this to a child, the best example would be to look at Ariel in The Little Mermaid. Since Ariel sees herself as lesser than humans, essentially broken and needing to be fixed, she is marked as someone who suffers from BDD. Now, if you wanted to be a stick in the mud, you could argue that we can’t put human classifications on mermaids. Just shush up. When Ariel’s family tells her that her dreams are crazy and she’s perfect just the way she is, Ariel refuses to believe them. She even resorts to crazy evil magic to change her fin into a set of legs.
7. Moe – Depression
Moe’s crippling depression in The Simpsons has been one of the long-running gags on the show. The man has contemplated suicide so many times that he calls the noose in the closet “old friend.” Each time Moe considers suicide, he realizes in some backwards fashion that he has some purpose or people that care for him. In one episode, Moe prepares to commit suicide and calls a suicide helpline, if only to “give one of the new kids a chance to talk to the legend.” Before he can off himself, he gets a prank call from Bart. Then, Homer saves him. Yet, despite all the times he’s been saved, Moe’s still a depressed soul. His lines always have a hint of sadness behind them, such as when Homer found out he was once a boxer. Of his career, Moe said, “They called me Kid Gorgeous. Later on, it was Kid Presentable. Then Kid Gruesome. And finally, Kid Moe.”
6. Charlie Brown – Neurosis
It’s not a stretch to say that Charlie Brown is a neurotic. He has a tendency to become depressed and anxious. He is indecisive because of over-analysis, and he is paranoid about what others think of him. Hell, Charlie is used as the model of neuroticism. When discussing personality, many experts use what’s called the Five Factor Model or the Big Five: Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, Neuroticism, and Openness to Experience and Extraversion (CANOE). These traits can be found throughout Peanuts. Schroeder represents Conscientiousness, Lucy Agreeableness (or rather its opposite), Charlie is Neuroticism, Linus represents Openness to Experience, and Snoopy is Extraversion.
5. Spongebob Squarepants – Williams-Beuren Syndrome
Williams-Beuren Syndrome or Williams Syndrome is a developmental disorder that covers a lot of ground. Many of those with Williams Syndrome are very outgoing. They take great interest in others and are usually seen as engaging and outgoing. There are distinctive bodily features as well, such as a broad forehead and poor muscle definition. They can be overly trusting and extremely friendly. All of these traits listed are part of the reasons why some have suggested that Spongebob Squarepants is a picture of Williams-Beuren Syndrome. While there are definitely moments and episodes that Spongebob breaks out of the typical Williams-Beuren box, the general description does fit him quite well.
4. Swiper – Kleptomaniac
Kleptomania is a form of an impulse control disorder. Sufferers of the condition are unable to control the urge to steal. If there’s one character on television who exhibits clear signs of kleptomania, it’s Swiper the Fox from Dora the Explorer. Swiper is found in almost every episode of the show. He is utterly dominated by the impulse to steal whatever he can from Dora. Interestingly, he only stops when Dora says a phrase three times, which might indicate that there is an obsessive-compulsive disorder attached to his kleptomania. Sadly, the shaming that goes on after Swiper is caught is not doing him any favors. This poor fox needs help, but everyone is too caught up in the euphoria of catching him in the act of stealing that they never stop to think about what’s making him steal.
3. Archer – Aspergers
Over the last few years, there have been several conversations popping up online discussing the likelihood that the protagonist from Archer, Sterling Archer, has Aspergers. Some of the signs that might put him somewhere on the spectrum are seen in his irregular social skills, although many just see this as a result of his strange upbringing and his parents. His interests bordering on obsessions in very obscure things, such as crocodile deaths, are another indicator. His suppressed emotions and his high IQ are more signs. Clearly, many characters exhibit these signs, but Archer takes these qualities to the extreme. Him being on the autism spectrum is definitely possible.
2. Frodo – Depression
You could make the argument that the entire story of Lord of the Rings is just one giant metaphor for depression, but since J.R.R. Tolkien was not a fan of allegory, we won’t. We will, however, look at Frodo Baggins at the end of his journey and allegorize the crap out of that. When Frodo returns home from his journey, it is said that the ring bearers will travel across the waters to Valinor. Frodo, at the end, is unable to return to his normal life. He says, “How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand there is no going back? There are some things time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep that have taken hold.” For him, depression has scarred him too deeply. In many ways, his traveling to Valinor, away from friends and family (save for Bilbo, of course), is a type of suicide. Obviously, the story is not as dark as this and we’re taking liberties with a fantasy tale, but the indicators are there that Frodo was severely depressed.
1. Sesame Street
Kids’ show characters often have very extreme personalities, so it makes sense that some people suggest they have mental disorders. Sesame Street is one of the best examples of this. Take the Cookie Monster, for example. This guy clearly has a severe eating disorder. Oscar the Grouch is a hoarder and is depressed or has oppositional defiant disorder, a disorder marked by aggression and outbursts. The Count has obsessive-compulsive disorder, needing to count everything he sees. Elmo has some form of narcissistic personality disorder. Big Bird is a classic schizophrenic whose best friend is the imaginary Snuffleupagus (who’s incredibly depressed). Yet, Big Bird has been successful in passing his delusion on to others near him, so this might be better described as a shared psychotic disorder. Basically, if you can think of a mental illness, you’ll find some character on Sesame Street that appears to suffer from it.
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