Many seemingly innocent cartoon characters should count their lucky stars that they live in an animated, fictional universe. If they lived among us and were judged the way you and I are, they would be in major trouble. These characters have such glaring and long-enduring mental disorders that there’s no way they could escape years of therapy, and possible institutionalization. This is of course for fun, and should not be taken as actual diagnoses as I am not a real doctor nor have I played one on TV.
Please note that diagnoses change over time as we learn more about mental health, so some of these may not age quite so gracefully.
10. Charlie Brown, Avoidant Personality Disorder
I know that watching Charlie Brown at Christmas or Thanksgiving is a holiday tradition for many families, but personally, I could never get behind it. I wanted to like Charlie Brown and his gang, but I just couldn’t do it. To be honest, I just got so angry at that show, much more than anyone should, really. Poor Charlie Brown never caught a break. From the kite-eating tree, to his sports endeavors, to his many failed holiday celebrations, the world was out to get him.
And now, as if the world of vocally challenged adults wasn’t enough of an enemy, now it’s the real world’s turn. In all of those therapy sessions with Lucy, I wonder if she ever thought to diagnose him with what we call avoidant personality disorder.
The causes of such a disorder are unknown but, like many mental health disorders, it’s a combination of our genetic code and the environment we are exposed to throughout our lives. What we do know, however, is how it makes a person feel. In Charlie Brown’s case, he is painfully shy, takes rejection very personally and, as such, often expresses his feelings of inadequacy.
But that’s not all, Charlie Brown. Suffering from symptoms such as these can damage your social and work life, adding to your already unhealthy self-image. Oh brother!
9. Ariel, Disposophobia (Hoarding)
Who doesn’t love a Disney movie? All those innocent and simple characters cavorting around in their uncomplicated story lines are great companions when you give your brain a Disney vacation from the comfort of your couch. My personal favorite has always been a tie between Ariel and Belle, although I guess Ariel came out on top. Which character did I act out alongside? Ariel. When it was time for Halloween, who did I dress up as? Ariel, while my unfortunate little brother was cast as Sebastian.
And who do I blame for the unhealthy hoarding habits I fight off each and every day? My mother! Wait, no, that’s not right. My mother reads these. What I meant to say was Ariel! That’s right, as this melodious 16-year-old swam her way into our hearts, so did her mental health disorder: Disposophobia.
While neither hoarding, nor disposophobia, are recognized in the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) as their own disorders, they are symptomatic of other disorders. Hoarding behaviors are found in people affected by autism (limited interests), many psychotic disorders, (delusional thoughts and behaviors), and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (obsessive hoarding). It has been suggested as a revision to the DSM-V, scheduled to be published in May 2013, to include hoarding.
My favorite suggested definition is “persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value.” Have you seen the stuff that Ariel collects? A fair amount of it can’t be used underwater (a candlestick? A cork screw?). In addition to the distress of accumulating items, in her case through glorified dumpster diving, there is a remarkable amount of distress when having to part with the hoarded items. I can give her some slack, considering how ruthlessly her “collection” is destroyed, but isn’t running away from home and pretty much mutating your DNA to go live with some hunk an excessive reaction in some way?
8. Bruce Banner, Dissociative Identity Disorder
Bruce Banner was your typical comic book scientist in Marvelville, working for the good of mankind until he was caught in a blast of gamma radiation. This exposure released from within him a grey “hulk” of a man every night. That is, until Marvel writers decided to step away from the werewolf-Hulk and focus on creating the needlessly-violent Hulk whom we all know and love.
But the Marvel universe couldn’t just sit back and torture poor Bruce, an already exceptionally reserved and previously abused genius. The Marvel universe takes care of its own (sometimes). According to some digging, in issue #337 of The Incredible Hulk, Bruce undergoes hypnosis, during which it can be effectively determined that he suffers from the mental disorder known as Dissociative Identity Disorder. What proof of this is there? Well, it would seem that there are at least three “Hulks” residing in poor Bruce’s mind: the aggressive-but-simple Green Hulk, the Mr. Fixit Gray Hulk, and the sadistic Guilt Hulk, who emerges in response to Bruce confronting the abuse he suffered from his father.
Multiple Personality Disorder is one of the more controversial mental disorders in the medical world because of its difficulty to effectively diagnose. However, the textbook definition of the disorder reflects many symptoms that Bruce suffers from, wherein two or more distinct personalities recurrently take control of an individual’s behavior. MPD also has a high co-morbidity rate, meaning that it frequently will not be the only disorder that the individual suffers from. It also is a disorder that can be confused or mistaken for other more common disorders, such as schizophrenia, somatization, and borderline personality disorder to name a few.
The good news is after Marvel makes Bruce confront his psychological demons, he sort of gets better. After this session, there is only Bruce and a newly created Hulk called the Professor. This last Hulk is said to be a combination of the Green and Gray Hulks, as well as Bruce, and is referred to as the “merged” Hulk. While Bruce may not be cured, at least there’s a little more space in his psyche now.
7. Glenn Quagmire, Hypersexuality
It’s funny that I’m writing this after finishing a Family Guy episode in which Quagmire sets his sexual appetites on Meg, the daughter of Quagmire’s next-door neighbor, and best friend, on her 18th birthday. Quagmire is responsible for the majority of the crude and perverse sexual jokes on the show, and is honestly one of my favorite characters because of that. In many of his cutaway scenes, he can be seen in his trademark animal print undies, about to do the wild thing with some unorthodox twist to it. For Quagmire, his standards for his sexual partners are high (most of the time), as is his success rate.
Before people go off the deep end trying to brag about having this or claiming that their significant other “suffers” from this, let me just say: THIS DOES NOT EXIST. At least, not to the American Psychological Association. While this disorder was listed in the DSM-IV, it will not appear in the DSM-V, scheduled to make its appearance in 2013. However, both the American Society of Addiction Medicine and the World Health Organization recognize the term “sexual addiction,” the WHO going so far as to recognize the terms “satyriasis” and “nymphomania.” The APA claims that if this disorder must exist, it does so under the term “hypersexuality,” which exists as a symptom of various manic disorders.
6. Calvin, Schizophrenia
I like to think that when Bill Watterson created Calvin and his partner-in-crime Hobbes, he was blissfully unaware of what kind of mental disorder he was giving this child. Calvin’s relationship with his stuffed tiger has been endearing and somewhat concerning for years. While many parents would brush this off as just a child having an imaginary friend, there seems to be something off about this fantasy. I know I had imaginary friends when I was six, and even a little beyond, but never to this extent. His stuffed tiger helps him with his science experiments (like the Transmogrifier), participates in philosophical discussions, and even has a crush on the girl next door. While we all hope that this is just a harmless childhood phase, a look into Calvin’s still-developing psyche may reveal something more sinister: schizophrenia.
While schizophrenia is commonly confused with Dissociative Identity Disorder, they are radically different. Schizophrenia does not involve multiple consciousnesses; just one who has split their minds from reality. People suffering from schizophrenia have complex and realistic visual and auditory hallucinations, are often paranoid, and have significant social dysfunctions. Sound like a certain elementary schooler to you?
While it may sound not so bad to be stuck in a fantasy world for the rest of your life, poor Calvin doesn’t have much of a life to have. The worst part of this disorder is that the average life expectancy of those who have this disorder is shorter on average by 15 years than those without the disorder. One reason? A higher suicide rate.
5. Eeyore, Dysthymia
One of the classic characters from A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh, Eeyore is in a class unto himself. While many children’s books and shows try to keep the themes upbeat, and sometimes ridiculously positive, Eeyore is a blast of cold hard pessimism that is likely to shake any child out of their warm and fuzzy attitude.
At least, that’s one way it could work. For me, it made him endearing and pitiable. I wanted to hug Eeyore, help him rebuild his house, find his tail, and get him a lovely red balloon for his birthday to cheer him up. However, despite my hypothetical best efforts, if I had ever had the opportunity, I probably would have failed. Eeyore was made to be a depressed character, for whatever reason, but Milne’s imagination went far beyond depression when he was writing out his timeless tales. Unbeknownst to himself, Milne was giving Eeyore a mental disorder far beyond the normal scope of depression, a disorder called dysthymia.
Dysthymia is not depression, first of all. In fact, a person can suffer from both depression and dysthymia because of something called “double depression.” However, the defining difference between the two conditions is the nature of the symptoms: dysthymia is a chronic disorder (lasting at least 2 years), while depression episodes can last as short as a couple of weeks.
Other than the length of the episodes, dysthymia does reflect many symptoms of depression, such as decreased appetite, energy levels, self-esteem, and is unsuccessful with decision making. How many times has Eeyore been noted to say something that dismisses his thoughts or feelings? Not only does this demean himself, but also gives him an exit from ever having to make a decision by persuading others that their choices will be better. Like those with dysthymia, Eeyore seems to have always been depressed, and rarely deviates from his moody persona except to give a small fleeting smile. Fortunately for Eeyore though, this disorder is less intense than depression, and can be successfully treated with therapy and/or medication.
4. SpongeBob, Williams-Beuren Syndrome
What was originally a goofy idea in a Hawaiian t-shirt, and one of Nickelodeon’s low-budget filler cartoons, has become an international ultra-sensation. Sometimes he’s an adult, sometimes he’s a child, and sometimes he’s just a bubble-blowing, fry-cooking fiend. Always though, he is hyperactive, emotionally intense, socially awkward, and everyone’s best friend the moment he meets them.
Sounds like someone you call to a party to keep the conversation flowing, right? Wrong. Sounds like someone with Williams-Beuren Syndrome, hereafter known as WBS. People who exhibit the symptoms of this genetic disorder are often unusually cheery and outgoing in their personalities. I’ve seen a PBS segment on children and adolescents with this disorder, and they are beside themselves with joy to meet and hug anyone within reach. It’s incredibly sweet to watch. Whether it’s because of their winning personalities that captivate you so quickly, or you’re so enchanted by their elf-like facial features, you want to hug them back as well. However, while this makes for a very merry person, it also brings with it mental disabilities, heart murmurs, and low muscle tone (watch the episode “Musclebob Buffpants”, to see how low Spongebob’s muscle tone is), in addition to the stereotypical poor behavior timing. However, I still can’t explain how Spongebob goes from being a functioning adult with silly tendencies to a downright dunce.
3. Pepe LePew, Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Now originally, this would have been Bugs Bunny’s spot on the list, but after further review, he’s seems to be a very well-adjusted and confident individual whose only vice is a love for carrots. I looked it up, and cross-dressing (wearing another gender’s clothes without sexual or erotic gratification) is not listed as a mental disorder. Fear not, for I proceeded to comb through various characters before landing on “the locksmith of love,” Pepe LePew.
What disorder could this cartoon Casanova have? After all, he is confident, suave, and is constantly looking to please his perceived “le belle femme skunk fatale.” There isn’t anything wrong with this, is there? In Pepe’s case, there is. This poignant polecat could be diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). What behaviors he exhibits that are comical to the viewer, are unhealthy and insensitive to others.
Someone can exhibit NPD in multiple ways, as there is more than one way to make the world revolve around yourself. Pepe’s NPD stems from his belief in ideal love, and that he is the ideal lover. Pepe’s behavior towards his unfortunate amour, Penelope, shows a lack of empathy, as well as an inability to believe that she really does not want to be with him, that comes from his perceived entitlement to her. He shows arrogant behavior (claiming that he is too attractive) and requires an unrealistic amount of affection (from a stranger!) in order to be happy.
On one occasion, Pepe pulls out a gun and walks off-camera when Penelope refuses to come out from a glass case where she is hiding from him. There is the bang of a gun shot, and the poor cat rushes out, and into Pepe’s devious arms as he exploits her concern for his safety. Don’t believe me? Then head over to Google and search “For Scent-imental Reasons.”
2. Homer Simpson, Intermittent Explosive Disorder
Over the years as television’s most well known animated husband, dad, and drunk, Homer probably could have his own top ten list of mental disorders, but that’s not why we’re here. We’re here to focus on one in particular. Someone else can write that other list.
I’m sure you all remember that Homer has been a twice-animated dad: once in the real world, and once within his two-dimensional world. For those of you who have no idea what I’m referring to, I am talking about Bart’s hand-drawn cartoon series, Angry Dad. Now why on Earth would Bart create a comic about his dad in which Homer becomes irrationally angry, to the point of exploding his head? One possibility is that Homer suffers from an impulse disorder called Intermittent Explosive Disorder.
Now before there is a whole host of comments saying that I picked the wrong thing, I picked this disorder because I wanted something a little different. As the series has progressed, so has Homer, albeit pretty backwards. I know Homer is supposed to be clueless, but it’s gotten ridiculous over the years. His explosive anger though has always been there since the first time Homer strangled Bart.
Intermittent explosive anger is more than just an angry outburst. Everyone has those. What makes this a disorder is when there is serious damage done to the self, others, or property due to an exceedingly aggressive reaction to an event. While Bart can be a total pain, and really does go out of his way to tick his dad off, strangling shouldn’t be an option. For those of you pointing out that Homer’s anger comes from his drinking, I’d have to say that the majority of the time when he’s boiling over, he’s (comparatively) sober.
Homer’s diagnosis would be made once all other options have been ruled out, such as borderline personality disorder or antisocial personality disorder, as well as substance abuse. Again, while he does abuse alcohol, he normally doesn’t become an “angry drunk.” Besides, if you look at how impulsive he is in the first place, it isn’t surprising that he suffers from an impulse disorder.
1. Dora, Fugue State
Dora seems like a child with a healthy personality, right? She seems to have a good relationship with her parents and her extended family, is social with many animals and other people, and has an expansive thirst for adventure. It seems like she’s living the dream of every preschooler. She is able to wander off and around her world until she finds an adventure, without having to worry about anything beyond a pesky-but-harmless kleptomaniac fox.
Her healthy sense of adventure though, may be indicative of something more problematic to say the least. Her willingness to wander off, as well as her inability to recall previous travels, are both symptoms of a disorder called Fugue State.
Fugue State is a disorder of reversible amnesia. This means that when someone suffering from this rare disorder, they will temporarily forget memories or their own personality for a period of time, but will eventually recover with all previous memories whole. However, memories from the fugue attack do not usually remain.
Sounds a bit like a soap opera or brain slug attack. How this applies to Dora is by her incessant wanderings. These episodes often result in unplanned trips, none of which are remembered later on. You may think that with all of these adventures she has, Dora might not have to consult the map as often as she does. If she’s forgetting these episodes though, it makes more sense.
Bonus: Transvestic fetishism
Transvestic fetishism is a condition, which involves “intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving cross-dressing” that cause “clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. From: Clinical Men’s Health, 2008.