The cold never bothered me anyway: Frozen and depression

So, apparently in the US, May is “Mental Health Awareness Month”.

I figured this would be a perfect time to write about “Frozen”.

Let me back up a bit.

See, I wasn’t really interested in seeing the film at first – I hadn’t really heard much about it except it was cool that it featured a strong sister relationship instead of focusing on a heterosexual romantic relationship. And, of course, I’d seen links to countless YouTube covers of “Let it Go”.

But then my sister saw it, and loved it.

She told me, “You HAVE to see this movie; it’s basically about us. The older, blond one goes into her room and won’t play with her sister or talk to anyone, and the younger, redheaded one wants to find a boyfriend and get married!”.

This could literally be a picture of me and my sister. Except she'd be the better-dressed one!

This could literally be a picture of me and my sister. Except she’d be the better-dressed one!

While it’s true that that’s pretty much an accurate description of my sister and I growing up – a moody, withdrawn older sister and a fun-loving, energetic younger sister – it didn’t really make me want to see the movie.

Why would I want to watch something that would remind me of the times I’d shut myself away instead of being a good big sister?

However, after a few months of reading positive reviews about how it was less problematic than Disney films usually are, I figured I should probably give it a shot eventually. My chance came on the flight back from the US last week.

Now, since I’d already been primed to take the film waaaaay too personally, I spent most of the movie with tears in my eyes, feeling awful for poor Anna as she just wanted to have fun with her sister, and empathizing with Elsa’s desperation and fear as she was less and less able to control her power.

I know that any time there’s a kids’ film about an outsider who learns to accept him or herself, the crazy conservatives are going to go nuts, shouting about how that movie is looking to brainwash gay kids into accepting themselves or something equally horrible. A lot of people believe that Disney’s messages of acceptance are positive and important (especially because of the potentially queer interpretations) and some believe that Frozen is Disney’s “gayest film yet”.

As I watched Frozen, I could see how that connection could be very easily made; Elsa has something different about her that isn’t a huge deal while she’s young, but as she gets older and it gets more obvious, she learns that she has to hide it, and would rather withdraw from her family and be herself in isolation than live amongst others who will judge her for her difference.

But I also saw something else in it. When I got to the song “For the First Time in Forever” I realized just why I felt so strongly for Elsa:

Don’t let them in, don’t let them see / Be the good girl you always have to be / Conceal, don’t feel, put on a show / Make one wrong move and everyone will know.

When I got home, I Googled “Frozen metaphor” to see what would come up, and to my surprise (and, to be honest, my relief), I wasn’t the only one who saw Elsa’s story as a metaphor for depression.

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I was surprised and relieved that this was the case. I thought it might be due to my browsing history or something, but let’s be serious – I click on a lot more LGBT posts than I do mental health!

See, I’ve had depression for pretty much as long as I can remember. And, from what I remember, the hardest time to deal with it was when I was younger. This was probably because I didn’t know what it was, or that it had a name, or that it was something that had nothing to do with whether or not I was a good person. It was also difficult because not only did I often feel bad because I was depressed, but I also felt bad because I wasn’t able to be the kind of sister and daughter I wanted to be. Just like Elsa.

One of the blogs I found in my Google search.

Elsa feels pressure to be perfect, which can be a contributing factor to girls’ mental health issues, including depression and eating disorders.  When depressed, girls are more likely to internalize and to withdraw than boys. The isolation and fear that Elsa feels in regards to her power mirrors the isolation and fear that suffering from depression can cause. Her withdrawal as an effort to avoid hurting those around her and to avoid highlighting the fact that she’s “different” can look all too familiar to someone who has experienced depression.

Another post comparing Elsa’s power to depression.

As the story unfolded, I thought that Elsa’s power was handled with surprising compassion. The film showcased that Elsa’s power could be the source of creativity and enjoyment, just like many people with depression or other mental health issues associate them with their own artistic production or creativity. Elsa also came to accept her power as a part of herself that wasn’t something to be ashamed of or something to try to suppress. And, at the end, her power didn’t disappear, or turn into a different, more “positive” power. She didn’t have to use it to save someone’s life (quite the opposite, in fact) in order to redeem herself in the eyes of the villagers. Her power was still there, it was still potentially dangerous, and it was still a part of who she was. She learned how to manage it with the support of those around her.

I wonder if this could be a useful film to help kids learn about some of the symptoms of depression, or to help them cope when they have a sibling (especially an older sibling) displaying these symptoms.

We’re lucky in that we have so much more awareness and so much more information at our fingertips when it comes to things like depression. But, as a society, we still have a way to go as far as understanding and accepting mental health issues. For instance, in writing this, I’m nervous about what people who I know in real life will think about me – not only for having depression, but also for choosing to talk about it. But, just like anything else, one of the best ways to reduce the stigmas surrounding things like mental health issues is to talk about them.

To all of you Elsas out there:

There is nothing wrong with you. Depression has nothing to do with whether or not you’re a good person. You do NOT deserve to be unhappy, no matter how much you feel like you do. I promise. I swear. I’ve been there. Sometimes I’m still there.

I know how hard it can be to try to talk to your parents about depression. However, if you’re still on your parents’ health insurance, it may be necessary to get their help in seeking treatment. This article has some tips about addressing your feelings with your parents.

Here are some tips and tools for helping yourself or a friend.

Here’s a comprehensive list of resources for teens in the US.

To all of you Annas:

Thank you. For being there and for caring. Having a sibling with depression is incredibly difficult.

Your sibling’s mental health issues are not a reflection on you. They do not mean that your sibling doesn’t love you. And they certainly don’t mean that you need to jump in front of some jerk with a sword in an effort to save your sibling! Keep in mind, if you are looking for ways to help a sibling who may be dealing with depression or something similar, your first priority has to be your own health and your own happiness. While there are tons of ways for you to try to help and support someone, “fixing” them is not your responsibility.

Here are some resources about how to reach out to someone while taking care of yourself.

Here’s some info about how to help a sibling if they are depressed.

And finally, did you know that having a sister can actually help reduce negative feelings?

Buy Frozen at Amazon.

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11 responses to “The cold never bothered me anyway: Frozen and depression

  1. I have seen Frozen once and parts of it several times. My two boys love it! I hadn’t really made this connection so thank you! I am frequently asked to talk to to groups about mental health (usually adults) but using the themes in Frozen could be extremely effective for a group of children. I can’t believe I didn’t see all the metaphors before now. I had been more in tune with the gay themes since I live in an area where apparently it makes many people perplexed and uncomfortable that my boys are so obsessed with the movie. They actually take turns playing Anna and Elsa which I love. I’ve certainly enjoyed the break from their typical acting out of superheroes.

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