Like pretty much every parent in America, I sobbed my way through Inside Out. It’s what I’ve come to expect from Pixar movies since becoming a mother: Moments that will leave me in tears as I contemplate the fragility of childhood.
What I didn’t expect was that upon re-watching Inside Out (it hit DVD and Blu-Ray this week, and Disney sent me an early viewing copy), my tears would flow not just for my daughter but for me.
As most of America knows by now, the film centers around Riley, a little girl whose family moves across the country right as she’s hitting the tween years. Most of the movie actually occurs inside Riley’s head, with her anthropomorphized emotions leading us on an adventure through her brain.
We see Joy losing control of what’s long been her reign over Riley’s life, a metaphor for the end of childlike innocence that every parent fears (hence all those tearful mothers and fathers streaming out of movie theaters this past June). But what we also see is an almost perfect representation of what it is that depression does to the brain.
Everything Sadness touches is ruined, and Joy is helpless in the face of Sadness’ systematic destruction of what were heretofore Riley’s happy memories.
Of course, some sadness is normal in childhood, no matter our attempts to stave it off for our children. But mental illness in children, particularly the notion that kids can be depressed too, is woefully ignored in our society. “They can’t be depressed because they have nothing to be depressed about” is a pervasive and dangerous myth that keeps countless kids from getting help for their depression.
In fact, an estimated 80,000 kids in America suffer from severe depression. One in 10 kids aged 5 – 16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder.
I was that kid.
I struggled with my weight, with being bullied, with chemicals inside my brain that I couldn’t shake into being “right.” I battled bulimia and self harm.
I was depressed.
But kids didn’t get depressed. Kids had nothing to be depressed about.
I didn’t get treatment for my depression until I was 17 — when I was finally in college and able to go after it myself — because “kids aren’t depressed.”
I cried at Inside Out because I saw myself and thousands of other kids like me.
I smiled at Inside Out too. Because in it I saw myself and thousands of other kids like me … and now America sees us too.
Inside Out is a beautiful film, but it’s an important one too. Because recognizing that kids’ feelings are not simple black and white, happy and sad, is a vital piece of protecting childhood.
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