It often happens that we don't realize the negative, dark, or serious aspects of cartoons until we're adults. In our youth, we believed many cartoon characters were seemingly innocent. The reality is they have glaring and long-enduring mental health disorders, issues that many of us struggle with today. Although this shouldn't be used as a cheat sheet for diagnosing any psychiatric conditions, Banyan Mental Health wanted to share a list of cartoon characters with mental disorders to spread awareness of symptoms that often go unnoticed.
Arguably one of the most well-known cartoon characters with schizophrenia is Alice, who made her debut in 1865 in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Schizophrenia is a serious mental health disorder that interferes with the individual’s ability to think, manage emotions, problem-solve, make decisions, and relate to others.
Throughout her journey in Wonderland, Alice sees talking animals and a hookah-smoking caterpillar, which falls under the common schizophrenia symptoms of hallucinations and delusions. She imagines a drink that makes her smaller in size and is tortured by the Queen of Hearts. Alice’s delusions build a magical world that only shows her schizophrenic perceptions.
Ariel (The Little Mermaid): Disposophobia (Hoarding Disorder)
Hans Christian Andersen first wrote Den Lille Havfrue (Danish for “The Little Mermaid”) in 1937. If you’re familiar with Disney’s version of The Little Mermaid story, then the lyrics, “Look at this stuff, isn’t it neat?” might conjure up some memories of an underwater cave full of random knick-knacks from the human world. Amid Ariel’s fascination with forks and seeking advice from Scuttle the Seagull, most of us probably didn’t realize the extent of Ariel’s collection of human gadgets and gizmos.' Looking back, however, it’s clear to see that the 16-year-old mermaid likely suffered from a hoarding disorder or disposophobia.
Disposophobia or disposophobic disorder refers to the fear of getting rid of stuff and is better categorized as an anxiety disorder. Known as a subtype of OCD, individuals and cartoons like Ariel with hoarding disorder have trouble discarding or parting with possessions due to a perceived need to save them. Usually, individuals with hoarding disorder have a room, house, or underwater cave full of things they’re too afraid to get rid of.
Bruce Banner: Dissociative Identity Disorder
Bruce Banner was your typical Marvel scientist, working for the good of mankind until he was caught in a blast of gamma radiation. This exposure caused a change in his chemical makeup, causing a “hulk” of a man to be released from within him every night. However, Marvel writers eventually stepped away from this “werewolf” version of the beloved scientist and stuck with the green and violent Hulk we all know and love.
In issue #337 of The Incredible Hulk, it’s revealed that Bruce has dissociative identity disorder when he undergoes hypnosis. Dissociative identity disorder (DID), previously referred to as multiple personality disorder (MPD), is a dissociative disorder marked by a disturbance of identity in which two or more separate and distinct personalities or identities control the individual’s behavior at times.
According to the comic, there are at least three types of “Hulks” residing in Bruce’s mind: the well-known and aggressive Green Hulk, the Mr. Fixit Gray Hulk, and the sadistic Guilt Hulk, who emerges when Bruce confronts the abuse he experienced at the hands of his father. While DID is one of the most difficult mental health disorders to diagnose, Bruce Banner reflects many of its textbook symptoms, such as having two distinct personalities take over at different times.
Charlie Brown: Avoidant Personality Disorder (APD)
APD is characterized by feelings of extreme social inhibition, inadequacy, and sensitivity to negative judgment and rejection. A key symptom of APD is avoiding work, social situations, or school activities for fear of negative criticism or rejection. People with this disorder often feel unwelcome in social situations, even when that’s not the case.
Considering the positivity and sweetness of Peanuts, you may be surprised that Charlie Brown suffers from APD. He always gets the sense that no one likes him and that everyone is laughing at him. He’s preoccupied with his shortcomings and carries a constant fear of rejection. However, it can be argued that he doesn’t try to let his psychological issues keep him from trying to kick that football!
One of the most beloved cartoon characters from A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh, Eeyore is a hard contrast from the rest of the characters’ upbeat and sometimes ridiculously positive attitudes. In comparison, Eeyore is a blast of cold water marked by pessimism that’s likely to sadden any child or even adult.
As much as some of us wished we could cheer up Eeyore, it’s likely that nothing would’ve worked. For reasons mainly understood by Milne himself, Eeyore was created to be a character that suffered from far more than the basic scope of depression. Likely without realizing it, Milne gave Eeyore a disorder called dysthymia, or persistent depressive disorder.
This condition is a milder but longer-lasting form of major depressive disorder. People with dysthymia experience a low mood for at least two years, along with at least two other symptoms of depression. Common symptoms of dysthymia include lost interest in normal activities, hopelessness, low self-esteem, low appetite, and low energy. Do any of those ring a bell?
Elsa: Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)
Speaking of major depressive disorder, Elsa from Frozen displays many symptoms of this disorder, including locking herself away from her sister and refusing to face the world. She loses interest in games and activities she used to love doing with her sister and struggles to overcome extreme guilt for the lack of control over her powers. Her low self-esteem and feelings of depression are even made evident in the song “Let It Go,” where she expresses the need to put up a front: "Don’t let them in, don’t let them see, be the good girl you always have to be! Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know.”
Major depressive disorder or major depression negatively affects how a person feels, thinks, and acts. Common symptoms include feeling sad, loss of interest in pleasurable activities, loss of energy, increased fatigue, and feelings of worthlessness or guilt. Elsa is a textbook example of major depressive disorder.
Glenn Quagmire: Sex Addiction
As one of the less kid-friendly cartoon characters, we turn our sights to Glenn Quagmire from Family Guy. This character is known for his extreme and constant sexual appetites, earning him the diagnosis of sex addiction or hypersexuality. Sexual addiction is best described as a progressive intimacy disorder marked by compulsive sexual thoughts and actions.
Like all addictions, sex addiction can negatively impact an individual and their loved ones as the disorder worsens. Over time, the individual usually has to increase the nature and frequency of their sexual behavior to achieve the same results. Quagmire can easily be diagnosed with this disorder, considering his various sexual escapades and countless scenes of him going off to engage in unorthodox sexual acts only wearing his trademark animal print underwear.
Homer Simpson: Intermittent Explosive Disorder
Intermittent explosive disorder is a condition characterized by a failure to resist aggressive impulses, resulting in serious assaults or destruction of property. People with this disorder often threaten or hurt another person and purposefully break or damage valuable objects.
Not surprisingly, intermittent explosive disorder can be applied to Homer Simpson, the husband, father, and beer-drinker who often – and quite literally – jumps at his son’s throat every time he’s upset or inconvenienced. His son, Bart, even goes as far as creating his comic about his dad titled Angry Dad. Considering that Homer likely suffers from this impulse disorder, it’s also unsurprising that he has a drinking problem, as well.
Scar: Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD)
APD is a mental health condition in which a person consistently shows no regard for right and wrong and ignores the rights and feelings of others. People with APD tend to antagonize, manipulate, or treat others harshly or with indifference. They also show no guilt or remorse for their behavior.
As one of the most heartless cartoon characters in Disney, Scar from The Lion King grew up in his older brother’s shadow, which fueled his thirst for power and control. This need for domination, coupled with his APD diagnosis, led to Scar’s brutal killing of his brother Mufasa, for which he shows no remorse. His cold and heartless personality and APD become more apparent throughout his short reign as king.
SpongeBob SquarePants: Williams-Beuren Syndrome
Also known as Williams Syndrome, people with Williams-Beuren syndrome (WBS) have an apparent lack of social inhibition and tend to use speech that’s emotionally descriptive, high in prosody (exaggerated rhythm and emotional intensity), and features unusual terms. People with this syndrome also have high empathy and often display friendliness at a level that’s inappropriate for the social situation.
People who exhibit symptoms of this disorder are unusually cheerful and outgoing, just like SpongeBob. If someone has this disorder, they are often beside themselves with joy and are ready to hug and be best friends with everyone they meet. However, while this makes for a very merry person, WBS also comes with some health problems, such as heart murmurs and low muscle tone. These are evident in the episode “Musclebob Buffpants,” as well as his poor behavior timing.
The Evil Queen: Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a mental health disorder in which people have an inflated sense of self-importance, a deep need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. Behind this mask of ultra-confidence, however, is a fragile self-esteem that’s sensitive to the slightest criticism. The Evil Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a prime example of mental illness in cartoons, specifically NPD.
The Evil Queen is completely engrossed with being the most beautiful person in the kingdom. She needs constant affirmation from her magic mirror, and when she discovers that her stepdaughter Snow White has become “the fairest of them all,” she becomes so jealous and envious that she hires a huntsman to kill her. Her refusal to play second fiddle to her stepdaughter or anyone else shows her extreme lack of self-esteem, obsessive thirst for admiration, and lack of empathy for others.
Tigger: Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Another beloved yet mentally ill cartoon is another Winnie-the-Pooh character: Tigger. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders. It’s usually diagnosed in childhood and persists into adulthood. Individuals with ADHD struggle to pay attention, control impulsive behaviors, or be overly active.
Tigger from Winnie-the-Pooh is depicted as a hyperactive and bouncy tiger who often acts impulsively and without much consideration for the result of his behavior. Tigger's behavior clearly resembles some common symptoms of ADHD, such as hyperactivity, talkativeness, squirming or fidgeting, and making frequent careless or unnecessary mistakes.
Depictions of cartoon mental illness can vary widely in accuracy and sensitivity. While some examples of cartoon characters with mental disorders may help raise awareness and reduce stigma around a particular illness, other portrayals may contribute to harmful stereotypes and misrepresentations.
For these reasons, it’s important to remember that mental illness is a complex and varied experience that can manifest in different ways. As such, it's difficult to generalize how cartoon characters with mental illnesses should be or are portrayed.
Even so, it's generally recommended that depictions of cartoon characters with mental disorders should avoid using harmful stereotypes, such as associating mental illness with violence, unpredictable behavior, or incompetence. Instead, any cartoons purposely created with a mental illness should aim to portray their disorder accurately, displaying symptoms as they are while showing that living a full life with their disorder is possible.
From this, we can gather that mental illness is displayed on various platforms, both in animated and real life. For individuals who are battling mental illness, our psychiatric services can help. Our Banyan facilities for mental health offer various disorder-specific mental health treatment and therapy programs to help clients understand their disorders and how to best cope with their symptoms.
No matter how long you’ve had this diagnosis or how severe your symptoms are, our residential mental health facilities can make recovery possible. Call Banyan Mental Health today at 888-280-4763 or send us your contact information, and we’ll reach out to you.