The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
Moving. Moving can be hard at any age but especially for a young adolescent when they are moving across the country. In Inside Out, we follow young Riley and her mental journey as she is uprooted from her home and moved to a new state. We get to experience how Riley is acting in reality and getting to see how her emotions are trying to react to everything. Riley is just one example of how a big shift can impact a child’s mental health. In the movie she has islands in her mind that are representations of characteristics that make her, her. Throughout the journey, her mental health deteriorates and she loses almost all of the characteristics that make up her personality. Her emotions lose control and she is running almost on a sort of “auto pilot” and her only goal is to get back “home” to her original state, Minnesota. As stated above, Riley is just one example and many children face large challenges during their adolescence that causes them to have unwell mental health. In the film, Inside Out, the negligence of attention and action to children’s mental health is highlighted and shows that it is critical for us to shift our focus to supporting and placing policies to help children. The movie opens up the floor to talk more about children’s mental health and what we can do to help.
In the film her family moves to a new state and everything there is different. Everything she grew up knowing is basically gone plus she has no friends in this new and strange state. Her emotions go through a rollercoaster of obstacles to get her to be herself again in this new place. Mental health has increasingly been more talked about in the last couple years but it is still sometimes forgotten when it comes to children. Tan mentions, “the number of children with mental health issues was skyrocketing for several years before the pandemic, and now, in our third year of grappling with COVID-19, these cases are expected to rise even further” (Tan, 2022). This means that not only were mental health issues in children already on the rise but since the pandemic it has gotten even worse. If we continue to shove this issue under the rug it will continue to get worse until it gets to an unfixable point. Inside Out is a great example of how we are actively shoving this issue under the rug rather than trying to deal with it head on. In the movie all of Riley’s emotions try to control her while the adults tend to get frustrated with her for her actions. During big shifts it is ok for kids to feel and express their emotions, especially sadness or anger. In “Lessons to Learn from Inside Out'' by Mindsum they point out that sadness in particular has a negative stigma around it and bottling up our sadness will just lead to an outburst at some point in the future (Mindsum, 2021). All of our emotions are natural and it is important for us as humans and especially young children to accept what we are feeling and let ourselves feel a certain way. Being able to feel sadness can be a very important part of coping with whatever situation a young child is going through. For example, parents aren’t aware that they tend to add mental stress to their children. Sometimes parents are stressed as well and will take it out on their children by accident which just adds to whatever the child is already going through. It is important for adults to support kids and try to help them learn to navigate their mental health rather than teach them to push it off.
The way society is structured puts an immense amount of stress on young children with no way to alleviate it. One of the biggest mental stressors put on children at a young age is school or academics. Parents and society teach you from a young age that in order to succeed you need to do well in school and get good grades or you're not going to get anywhere in life. Ironically it is also probably the single most prominent way to help children’s mental health. In “How can the education sector support children’s mental health? Views of Australian healthcare clinics” Paton states several ways that schools can aid children in their mental health journey. Paton breaks down the ways schools can help children into two main categories. The first is how schools can help individual students in their mental health. She notes that the four ways they can achieve helping individual students is being an accessible place for support, location, working with healthcare professionals, and monitoring attendance and academic performance (Paton, 2022). These four things can work together to allow schools to watch out for individual students who might be struggling with a mental health problem. For instance, if a child’s grade and attendance starts slipping and they seem not themselves the schools can identify this and begin to take steps to help. Because schools are usually close to students' homes due to the feeder pattern it can be easier for students to seek help at a school rather than trying to find a doctor. With this being said, it is important for schools to get in connection with healthcare professionals to either have one there to help, or have the school nurse or guidance counselor trained to be able to help students. Looking back at the movie, Riley starts a new school because she had just moved. On the first day of school the teacher calls on her almost immediately to introduce herself and talk about herself to the class. When she talks about Minnesota and her life she starts crying, to which the teacher just moves on to the topic of the class. This scene is one of the stepping stones that sends Riley down her depression spiral and to running away from her parents. We see in that scene that the teacher did nothing to try and console Riley or even talk to her after class to offer some avenues of support. The school in the movie hasn’t deployed any of the ideas that Paton mentioned in her article. This scene exemplifies that many of our schools aren’t putting out any effort to help student’s mental health.
The second main category Paton notes is programs schools can create to aid in helping children’s mental health across the board. This can help improve not just one child’s mental health, but any of the children as well as educators. The three ways she says schools can do this are upskilling students through programs, supporting social connectedness, and upskilling educators (Paton, 2022). These programs can help the entire student population’s mental health be more positive. Upskilling educators will allow them to be able to recognize some of the symptoms of negative mental health in students and talk to peers to see how they handle situations surrounding mental health. Providing programs for students to gain mental health skills such as coping and managing anxiety could prevent mental health conditions in the future. (Paton, 2022). Schools can also promote extracurriculars which might indirectly affect students' mental health. Thus, if a student joins extracurriculars they might meet students that have the same interests as them or are dealing with the same issues as them which might in turn help their mental health. It is important that these extracurriculars are easy to find and sign up for. If they are hidden or hard to find it is almost the equivalent of them not even being there. It is important for the school to make it a priority to make them available and also advertise them so students feel welcome signing up. These are just some ways schools can make an effort to try and help children’s mental health. Thinking back to that same scene of Riley at school, it is evident the school didn’t have many opportunities for Riley to join clubs or upskill herself to be able to help her mental health. If the school had some more opportunities for Riley she could have joined some clubs that could have allowed her to meet people that share the same interests and maybe made her transition to a new school easier. They did have a hockey team at the new school which Riley joined but it was not evident that any other clubs existed or were advertised for Riley to try and join. This could have contributed to Riley feeling alone because she didn’t have any friends and couldn’t join a club to meet new people.
Recently mental health has started to be talked about more, especially in older teens and adults. It is more common for doctors to look for mental health illnesses in older teens or adults. They do more checks and screens to look for mental illnesses such as dementia that affect the whole lifestyle rather than a functioning mental disorder. While doing these screens they might find an underlying functioning mental disorder that was unknown to the person before, so as an adult it is more likely for a doctor to find this underlying illness. Though most kids' negative mental health is overlooked and pushed off until it is recognized as an adult, it is important to transfer our attention to children’s mental health and learning to teach them ways to have a positive mental state. Many kids don’t get screened for a mental illness or disorder and if they are it is just a sheet at the doctors where they feel obligated to put that they feel happy all the time. Zakrzewski reminds us that, “making happiness an explicit goal in life can actually make us miserable” (Zakrzewski 2015). We can’t force ourselves to be happy all the time because it is extremely unhealthy. If we try to be happy all the time, when we fail we will be disappointed in ourselves and be more sad. In the movie we see Riley’s parents trying to get their happy girl back. They try to make her happy by doing things they did in Minnesota that made her happy. What they don’t realize is by trying to force that happiness it is making her more sad because it is just reminding her of how much she loved her old life and hates this new one. It is more important to teach kids to “prioritize positivity” (Zakrzewski 2015). This idea is centered around making time for activities or hobbies you enjoy, not repressing negative feelings. This tactic can help shift kids' mental health to be more positive and healthy. This we see more towards the end of the movie. After Riley’s attempt to run away she goes home. She tells her parents she can’t pretend to be happy and starts crying that she misses Minnesota. Her parents admit they miss it too and they all take a moment to allow their sad feelings to be displayed. It then goes to a montage of Riley making new friends and doing things she likes, such as hockey, to feel happy again. We see that Riley allowed herself to feel those negative emotions and not repress them which in the long term allowed her to heal her mental health and grow to be happy where she is. As shown, mental health in children is severely looked over and neglected. Giving schools, as well as children, the opportunity to learn how to manage mental health is important for the success and health of children in the future. If we don’t make it a priority to learn how to have a positive mental health at a young age, kids will struggle to do basic tasks and succeed as an adult. It is imperative to allow kids to feel their emotions and validate their feelings but also be on the lookout for signs of mental health conditions that they could be dealing with. The movie Inside Out allows adults to open up the question of mental health to children and bring to light ways we can support children and their mental health.