What Parents Can Learn from Pixar’s “Inside Out”

I’m going to go ahead and assume that most parents of young children in America have seen the recently released movie Inside Out, so I won’t bother yapping about spoiler alert. Like Disney’s Frozen, this movie depicting the psychology behind emotions and memory has taken us by storm. Unlike Frozen however, Inside Out has some major melodrama that I can get behind. Let’s put aside the fact that the main character, Riley, only had five emotions- Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust, and Sadness. Obviously, we are capable of experiencing a huge range of different emotions; not just these five. But for the purposes of this blog, I will spare you all my critiques of how this movie didn’t get it right. Let’s move on to the ways that it nailed it.

The main theme that I took from this movie was what the psychological community calls emotional congruence. This term basically states that what you’re feeling (your emotions) should match what you’re presenting (your behavior). For example, if you’re feeling happy about something, you may smile or laugh. If you’re angry about something, you may furrow your brow or frown (or go sit in your closet and scream into a pillow… No? Okay, never mind about that one). Point is, when Riley goes into her new classroom and feels a normal, healthy mix of excitement and fear, nothing bad should’ve happened. She may have stuttered in front of the class, spoken too quietly for anyone to hear her, or felt a little nauseous at the presence of those feelings. Let’s also not forget the sadness that she feels at the loss of her former life. But what does Joy go and do? Banishes Sadness to the corner and tries with all her might to keep Riley the “brave and happy girl” that her parents need her to be. This is where all of Riley’s internal emotions start to go haywire- when what she was feeling inside wasn’t congruent with the situation with which she was faced.

Think about the way you may react to your child feeling sad. Is your automatic response to say “don’t be sad”? Even if that is said in a sweet voice and accompanied by a bear hug, it may not be the phrase a kid needs to hear. Instead of trying to will your child out of sadness, or even attempting to fix the problem, try doing what Sadness did in the movie. When BingBong was upset and Joy failed to cheer him up, Sadness, knowing how important it was to be allowed to feel sad, just sat with him and patted his back until he felt better and was able to move on. She didn’t try to reason with him or explain why he shouldn’t feel sad or tell him to get over it. She just sat with him. Next time your kiddo is sad about something, just sit (or lay on the floor) with him or her. This super simple action acknowledges your child’s feelings and doesn’t undermine his or her expression of, in this case, sadness. Just take a second and imagine how you would feel if your spouse or bestie or whomever told you “Oh, don’t be so sad” or “Goodness, don’t cry!” Yes, thank you friend, that definitely makes me feel better. Right? Kids are told that all the time! Now, this is all assuming that you know your child well enough to distinguish between her being ridiculously dramatic and her being genuinely hurt about something (even if it seems silly to you). Let’s make a pact and change our automatic response from “don’t be sad” to “I’m so sorry you’re hurting”. It’ll change your life. Okay, maybe not yours, but definitely your kid’s.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree… or does it? What we know about depression and genetics.

Today we throw around the word “depressed,” like it has the same meaning as the word “sad”.  It seems that many of the people we know have dealt with some sort of depression at some point in their lives.  If you have experienced depression before or know someone in your family that has dealt with depression, you may have asked the following questions: What really constitutes clinical depression?  What is the likelihood that my children will inherit depression if someone in our family suffers from this illness?

What really constitutes clinical depression?

There are three things that people confuse: Grief, Sadness, and Depression. Grief is acutely reactionary. For example, if you have a large loss, then you will most likely feel extreme pain after that loss.  Six months later, if the sadness is still there but is a bit less intense, then you are experiencing grief.  This grief will most likely resolve itself in some measure over time.  On the other hand, if you experience a catastrophic loss and six months later you can barely function, then you are probably suffering from depression that was triggered from the catastrophic circumstance.  The trajectory tells us a great deal.  Often out of misunderstanding, people think of depression as sadness.  The idea is that it’s just too much sadness, or too much grief at far too slight a cause.  This is not true.  Sadness is simply the emotion felt due to a loss.  Clinical depression is characterized by loss of interest in almost everything.  Someone who is clinically depressed will not want to do any of the things that he previously wanted to do.  In addition, for this person small tasks that used to be easy to accomplish become too much work.  For example, emptying the dishwasher or checking his voicemail both seem like daunting tasks.  This is much more complicated than the emotion of sadness.

What is the likelihood that my children will inherit depression if someone in our family suffers from this illness?

Depression is the result of a genetic vulnerability (that is presumably evenly distributed in the population) and triggering circumstances.  At least 10% of the U.S. population will experience major depressive disorder (clinical depression) at some point in their lives, and two times as many women as men experience major depression.

If you have a parent or sibling that suffers from depression then you are probably at a 2 to 3 times greater risk of developing depression compared with the average person (or around 20-30% instead of 10%).  The situation is a little different if the parent or sibling has had depression more than once (“recurrent depression”), and if the depression started early in life (childhood, teens, or twenties).  This kind of depression is less common.  The exact percentage of the population is not known but is probably around 3 to 5%.  But the siblings and children of people with this form of depression probably develop it at a rate that is 4 to 5 times greater than the average person.

If you are reading this article and fall into one of the categories talked about above, don’t freak out!  Research shows that someone who suffers from depression and seeks treatment in the form of medication and therapy is less likely to have another depressive episode.  When used together, medication and psychotherapy have been proven to help alleviate depression, and thankfully we offer both of those options here at Heritage.  They key to feeling better is getting into treatment as soon as possible.  So call us and make an appointment if needed and we can help get you on track to feeling better.