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Winnie the Pooh and Mental Illness – Mental Health Month Reality or Coincidence?

Last Updated on May 7, 2020 by Inspire Malibu

It might not be a mistake that October, just ahead of holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and (gasp!) the New Year, is a month filled with mental health awareness events.

Amid all the discussion about psychological wellbeing, it’s a little surprising, though certainly fun, to see social media abuzz with the idea that characters from A.A. Milne’s iconic children story “Winnie the Pooh” each represent a particular mental illness issue.

Winnie-the-Pooh Mental Illness

Of course it isn’t true that the characters were originally written with these disorders in mind any more than the characters of Gilligan’s Island represent the seven deadly sins, or those in The Wizard of Oz reference political symbolism. Well, maybe Oz might be more than coincidental.

The idea that Pooh, Piglet, Eyore, Tigger and friends are each dealing with a mental health condition got its start in a paper, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in 2000, entitled “Pathology in the Hundred Acre Wood: a neurodevelopmental perspective on A.A. Milne.”

“We cannot but wonder how much richer Pooh’s life might be were he to have a trial of low-dose stimulant medication,” write the researchers.

Sarah Shea, lead author of the paper, later told BBC News “the purpose of the tongue-in-cheek study was to remind people that anyone can have [mental] disorders.”

What Mental Health Conditions are Represented by Winnie the Pooh Characters?

Though the paper is clearly a send-up, in analyzing Milne’s famous Winnie the Pooh characters, Shea and her colleagues highlighted the very real need for support and awareness of our own mental wellbeing, as well as to the health of those around us.

For the curious, here are the researchers fictional character mental health diagnoses:

  • Winnie-the-Pooh – Attention Deficit Hyper-Activity Disorder (ADHD) and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), due to his fixation on honey and repetitive counting
  • Piglet – Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • Rabbit – Narcissism
  • Eyeore – Dysthymic Disorder
  • Owl – Dyslexia
  • Christopher Robin – No diagnosable disorder, though Christopher lacks parental supervision and spends most of his time talking to animals
  • Tigger – ADHD
  • Kanga – Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Roo – Autism

Like many things that take on a life of their own on the internet and social media, some of these were suggested by others in addition to the original paper.

Winnie the Pooh Mental Disorders

Gary Gulman’s “The Great Depresh” on HBO

A more recent and, for that matter, real take on mental health is Gary Gulman’s “The Great Depresh,” an hour long stand-up routine, streaming on HBO, about the comic’s struggle with, hospitalization and treatment for depression.

“It’s been a long time since I shot my last special. I got very sick with the ‘depresh.’ I grew up in the ’70s. The only antidepressants we had access to was ‘Snap-out-of-it’ and ‘What-have-you-got-to-be-depressed-about?’ quips Gulman in a trailer for the show.

Far from being morbid, Gulman is able to mine his experiences with lifelong treatment-resistant depression in a touching, relatable and hilarious manner.

Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders in the country, affecting an estimated 17 million people every year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

What many people are unaware of, though, are the variants of depression. Just because a person isn’t suffering a major depressive episode does not mean they’re not struggling with some form of the disorder.

A condition known as persistent depressive disorder (PDD), also known as high functioning depression, is a common mental health condition. In many cases, it is difficult to detect and diagnose, but left untreated it can lead to poor quality of life and worsen over the years.

Mental Health Awareness in October

During October, take the opportunity to learn more about and boost the signal of the month’s mental health awareness campaigns:

Though the comic Gary Gulman and the authors of the “Winnie the Pooh” paper deliver the message in different formats, it remains the same:

Anyone can suffer from issues of poor mental health and there is no shame in seeking help.

While there is no cure for many mental health disorders, they can be treated and managed successfully. Recovery is only possible, though, after a proper assessment, diagnosis, and treatment by a qualified healthcare professional.


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