Disney has been entertaining us for generations with its family-friendly animations that people of all ages can enjoy. Many of its films pull on our heart-strings and teach us important messages but one film at the top of that list is their 2015 animated, instant classic, Inside Out.
Inside Out follows the story of a young girl, Riley and her parents as they move away from their hometown due to the fathers work. They move to a new city, move into a new house and Riley has to go to a new school. Everything about Riley’s life is changing and the film is all about how she copes with these changes. While Riley is the main character, the real stars of the film are her emotions, Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust. These emotions have been characterised in Riley’s mind and we follow them as they try to help Riley and control her emotions along the way.
While the film on the surface is a fun, funny film for everyone to enjoy, if you look deeper into the film’s messages there’s a lot we can learn from Inside Out about mental health. In fact, many mental health professions use Inside Out as a tool during their therapy sessions with mental health patients of varying disorders. This is not just within children’s mental health services but adults too. It is a brilliant example of the wider media starting to inform us about mental health in a positive way and has lessons that we all need to be reminded of sometimes.
It is ok to feel sadness
One of the most important lessons to learn from Inside Out is that it is ok to feel sadness sometimes. Sadness is an emotion with a lot of stigma and negativity around it, to the point where many of us have probably wondered why we have it. This is reflected at the beginning of the movie when Joy literally states “This is sadness…I’m not actually sure what she does.”
Much of the time people decide to bottle up their sadness, not let anyone show how they are truly feeling. It may be that we sometimes think that we aren’t allowed to be sad as that is what society constantly teaches us. Joy visually represents this motion by drawing a circle around Sadness, telling her to not leave the circle and to stay suppressed in Riley’s mind. While it may seem easier at times to bottle up our sadness and put on a positive front for people to see, what we are actually doing is neglecting natural feelings which can only lead to more problems and outbursts in the future.
Sadness is a natural human emotion, it allows us to feel empathy, nostalgia and is a coping mechanism for many situations in life. We are allowed to feel sad when big events happen in our life, such as Riley. She has moved to a completely different city, left her old friends and her old school and she feels as if she has to start all over again, so of course, she is probably feeling a little, if not a lot sad. At one point Sadness understands this saying “I should drive now right?” In reference to the fact she should take control of Riley’s emotions as this is a sad time for Riley, however, Joy stops her, once again suppressing the sadness.
Sadness can actually help us get through difficult situations such as a big move, or losing a loved one, and it can also show other people that we are struggling and need help. At the end of the film, Riley is allowed to feel sadness and this is ultimately what reunites her with her parents, they can see that she’s struggling with the transition and know that she needs their support. Showing sadness does not make you weak, it can be a sign you need help or a coping mechanism when going through a challenging time.
Learn to balance our emotions
Many mental health issues stem from a lack of balance over our emotions, and a lot of the time letting ourselves be over-controlled by one of them in particular. In this way, the characters featured in Inside Out could all represent a different mental illness. Sadness is Depression, Fear is Anxiety, Disgust is OCD, Joy is Manic Behavior and Anger is violence issues. While all these emotions help us in some way, too much of any could result in a diagnosable mental illness. At the film’s resolution, Riley’s headquarters has an upgrade in which all five emotions get their own controls and can work together simultaneously to help her, this suggests that we need to let ourselves feel different emotions at different times and that our emotions working together is the best resolution and aim of recovery.
It is a common belief that to feel true happiness is all about joy, positivity and excitement. The character Joy represents this very well in the film. She is responsible for making sure Riley is happy all the time and only allows RIley to have happy memories. Joy often takes control and leadership over all of Riley’s other emotions and very rarely lets them have their turn. Every situation Riley has had through her life Joy finds a way to put a positive spin on it, not allowing Riley to feel anything but happy all her life.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s good to find the positives in life, look on the bright side and try to find the good in every situation, but that is not to say that we can’t find happiness while also feeling the emotions. For example, we may go through a hard time in our lives, which are sad to look back on but ultimately we are happy that we got through it. As human beings, we need to experience negative emotions such as sadness and fear in order to really appreciate the moments that make us truly happy.
For example, toward the end Joy and Sadness return to headquarters where Riley’s emotions are controlled. Before this, Riley has been left for a couple of days only feeling anger, disgust and fear towards her new life and her parents, which has led her to the irrational decision to run away back to her hometown leaving her parents behind. It is only when she allows herself to feel sadness, and let sadness take control that she decides against her plan. She returns home, is reunited with her parents which allows her to feel a deeper sense of happiness and comfort from her family, even though she is still feeling sad about her situation, she can feel happy that she has a loving family to help her get through it.
The film teaches us that our emotions can work together and help us get through tough times in order to find a deeper form of true happiness.
More people than you think will be guilty of doing this, being happy on the outside even when on this inside they are anything but. Feelings such as Sadness, Fear and Anger are seen by society as negative emotions, and ones that we should suppress and hide. We want people to see us in a good light and so only let ‘positive’ emotions such as joy and excitement show. This may be known as Artificial happiness, we pretend to be happy for the sake of others.
We don’t know what people are going through in their lives and behind closed doors, they could be the happiest people we know but on the inside, they feel alone and neglected. In society we need to normalise that it’s ok not to be ok, start to talk more openly about our emotions and not judge people for not being positive all the time.
Opens mental health discussions to children
Inside Out being a film aimed at children is a brilliant tool in helping children of all ages start to talk about their feelings and emotions. In fact, many mental health professionals now use this film as a tool in starting these conversations. Asking questions such as; Which character are you feeling like today? Do you have any core memories you would like to tell me? If you could talk to one of the characters which would it be and what would you tell them?
Even if they have not developed the language to fully explain their emotions through the use of the characters in Inside Out it will help us to better understand what a child may be mentally going through and in turn help us find ways to best support them, be that professional or family based.
Recovery from a mental health disorder
What does it really mean to be recovered from a mental health disorder? For many people even though they are considered recovered they may feel that in some ways they still have hints of their illness, but the way they deal with these little triggers are now more effective than their disorder so they can deal with them themselves in a controlled manner. For some people, a life fully free from their mental disorder may not be possible, but through learning to balance their emotions, control their feelings and through coping mechanisms can still live a relatively normal lifestyle.
The film’s ending isn’t the typical ‘Happily Ever After’ as all the characters’ issues have not been resolved. However, what the ending of the film may represent well is the happy ending for many people in recovery from a mental disorder. Riley’s headquarters gets an upgrade and all of her emotions now have equal and balanced control. She has found the correct balance of her emotions and ways to deal with situations that may arise in the future. While on some days she may feel one emotion more than another, she can now let her emotions work together which will be beneficial to Riley.
Overall while Inside Out is an animated film aimed at children, looking deeper into the messages of the film there is something there for us all to learn and to open up the conversation about mental health.