I’m not a big fan of Hollywood films hence I usually watch movies two years or 3 years after the release, if at all. However, lately I’ve been enjoying animation films, and I happened to watch Inside Out this week which inspired this post in time for the end of Minority Mental Health Month.
Inside Out is a great animation film that presents an allegory for mental health. I would recommend it for people of all ages because it explains the issue of mental health in layman terms with the bonus of it being a feel-good movie. The film characterises Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust in the mind of an 11-year-old girl named Riley whose world is turned upside down when her parents move to San Francisco. The story line follows the process of how Riley’s emotions – led by Joy – try to guide her through this difficult life-changing event. But, the stress of the move and her longing for her former home brings Sadness to the forefront. When Joy and Sadness are accidentally swept into the far reaches of Riley’s mind, the only emotions left in Headquarters (Riley’s mind) are Anger, Fear, and Disgust.
Spoiler alert: If you haven’t watched the film, and you don’t want to know the content of the movie reading this post is probably not a good idea. On the flipside, this might just give you the incentive to watch it as soon as possible!
Below are my top 3 mental health take- aways from the film.
‘Things fall apart in the absence of joy.’
1. The film wonderfully depicts the gradual loss that occurs in Riley’s life when Joy is no longer in the Headquarters. From the onset of the film, Joy is the character that regulates Riley’s emotion to ensure positivity in her life especially when the unwanted move to San Francisco happens. There are five personality Islands in Riley’s mind: goofball island, friendship island, hockey island, honesty island and family island. These islands were created from the important memories that Riley accumulated during her childhood.
With the prolonged absence of Joy and Riley’s core memories from the Headquarters (Riley’s mind), the different islands start to crumble gradually into the abyss to represent Riley’s disconnection. These scenes were particularly poignant for depression which has symptoms that include loss of interest in daily activities, neglection of hobbies and interests as well as difficulty in home and family life, all of which are evident in Riley’s life as each personality island crumbles. On a more hopeful note, the film ends with the reconstruction of the Island when Joy and Sadness make it back to the Headquarters. Riley can rebuild her life (and the islands) when she finally expresses her sadness to her parents.
One of the issues in our communities, especially communities of people of colour is that mental health is stigmatised to such an extent that it prevents people from getting the help is necessary for them to cope. This help ranges from medicine to therapy and counselling. We all have a responsibility to be as supportive of people with mental health problems as we are of people with physical health issues and to make sure that the process of getting treatment is destigmatized to avoid exacerbating issues that could be easily treated.
“Every emotion serves a purpose.”
2. I love the interaction between all the different emotions in the film, and it shows that every emotion serves a purpose in our life. At a certain point in the film, Joy takes control of Riley’s emotions which prevents her from going through the emotions necessary to adjust to the monumental change that has just occurred. Without the ability to feel sad, Riley is unable to open up about her true feelings which cause her to slip further into depression and to start then, feeling almost nothing. The film shows that Joy alone cannot drive our reactions to everything in life. The important thing is to learn to harness and channel all our emotions in a way that enables us to live a harmonious life. Self-awareness in this regard is extremely important!
‘It’s okay to be sad and allow yourself to feel sadness.’
3. The resolution of Inside Out is quite powerful. At the start, Joy tried to contain Sadness in a circle, preventing Sadness from speaking or taking charge of Riley’s emotions. Joy and Sadness are accidentally uprooted from the Headquarters when Joy engages in a tussle with Sadness for touching one of Riley’s core memories, essentially make it sad. However, the end of the movie shows the importance of feeling sadness. There’s a touching scene where Joy gives all of Riley’s core memories to Sadness, leaving Sadness rather than Joy to help Riley cope with the move and readjustment.
One of the notable things about some communities of colour is that the repression of sadness is encouraged, and sadness is often associated with weakness especially with men who typically are ‘not allowed to cry.’ It’s important for us to acknowledge that the repression of sadness is unhealthy in the same way that prolonged sadness is unhealthy. Riley is able to feel a deeper form of happiness when Joy cedes control to Sadness. I’ll end this post with a Hadith below which is particularly important for the Muslim community.
While Prophet Muhammad was grieving for his son Ibrahim, Usama ibn Zayd started to cry. The Prophet warned him not to. Usama said, “I saw you crying.” The Prophet answered: “I have not commanded you against sadness, but against raising your voice in grief.”
Part two of the Minority Health Month Post, Depression Myths: Discussing weakness and weak Iman will be published tomorrow.