Mental Health Awareness Month: Inside Out (2015)

Inside Out (2015) Carries a Message That Spans Generations

May 31 marked the end of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Month, but that doesn’t mean the conversation should end. Mental health effects all of us, positively and negatively, so it shouldn’t be the taboo conversation that it is. It’s important that we talk about our bad days. It’s important that we mourn. It’s important that we cry. It’s important to feel, to reach out, to talk it out…

And that’s the message of Pixar’s 2015 film Inside Out. A film seemingly directed at young children was actually meant for everyone who was watching. Young Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) is a normal 11 year old girl when her parents decide to move from Minnesota to San Francisco. Through this excited, yet anxious, change in her life, audiences are given front row insight into Riley’s battling emotions (which have been embodied by luminescent, color-coded characters.) Red is Anger (Lewis Black), blue is Sadness (Phyllis Smith), purple is Fear (Bill Hader), green is Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and yellow is Joy (Amy Poehler.) The five emotions are thrown for a loop with this big shift in Riley’s life, and while they all run amuck (especially sadness), Joy tries to keep control to ensure Riley’s happiness through it all.

Image still from Inside Out- Joy and Sadness looking at a small orb together.
Image courtesy of Walt Disney Animation Studios

I feel like there are two sides to the audiences who watch Inside Out– the first being those who side with Joy, and the others being those who side with Sadness. I, myself, have found myself on either side depending on my mood during my viewing. Joy wants Riley to find curiosity and excitement through these changes. She wants to give Riley as many happy memories as possible, but Sadness keeps getting in her way. Sadness has gained new impulses to touch all of Riley’s happy memories and turn them blue (sad.) No one can seem to understand why Sadness keeps butting into Joy’s work, but as the film progresses, you get an insight into that reason why.

At the start of the film, Joy explains the important work that all of the emotions do for their human- except when she gets to Sadness. “I’m not really sure what she does.” Yeah, Sadness! WTH do you do, except make me spend 30+ hours in bed, cry at even the slightest inconvenience, obsess over the weight of life’s problems, drag my feet everywhere I go… I mean I could go on. What does Sadness do for us? Well, Pixar wants you to know that she helps you grow, she brings you closer to everyone around you, and without her, Joy just wouldn’t be as sweet to have.

While it’s honorable that Joy wants to keep Riley 100% happy all the time, it’s just not plausible, and she fails to understand that Sadness is just as essential as she is. It’s completely natural for Riley to feel scared and upset about the major changes happening. To ignore that just to save face and put on a smile does a disservice to you and your mental health. Riley’s mental health breaks into a frenzy when Sadness isn’t allowed to do her job.

Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. Every time you cry, then give yourself a motivational pep-talk; that’s your mental health at work. You cannot deny yourself the space to feel because then you make a path for yourself to become a shell. When Riley loses Sadness and Joy, she slowly becomes this shell. Her “personality islands” begin to fall apart into forgotten oblivion- a heart wrenching, visual representation of depression. All of her connections to meaningful life are slowly lost because she cannot process her emotions properly.

Depression is a separation from emotion and connection. Disconnecting and death are easier than the simple act of even existing. Riley was slowly starting down that path when she decided to run away. Now deciding to feel your sadness doesn’t mean that all of your problems are solved, but it’s a start. When Sadness is given the space to do her job, Riley finally opens up to her family. She reaches out for needed guidance and help, and she receives it. Understanding and allowing yourself to cry is the first step to finding a solution. The next step is to open up and reach out (whether it is to family, friend, therapists, etc.) That is why I love Pixar’s Inside Out so much. This message is broken down to the basics for children and adults alike, because we all need a cry. We all need to feel. We all need help, and that is okay.

Movie poster from Inside Out
Image courtesy of Walt Disney Animation Studios

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