What does one German toy company hope to accomplish by selling mentally ill plush toys?
It’s hard to know whether to be offended or amused by the current line of toys by Parapleuch. The German company’s website boasts a line of toys with various psychiatric disorders, allowing “doctors” or customers to treat the toys in a virtual clinic, using various outdated and stereotypical methods. The patients wait for their doctors in a stark virtual waiting room adorned with only one sign — a noose with a red slash through it — reminding the stuffed animals that virtual suicide is either discouraged or not allowed. The little online psychiatric hospital gives doctors a number of options with which to treat patients. Doctors can do a physical exam, read a medical history, try art or hypnotherapy, or inject the animated plushies with some sort of psychotropic drug. Only when a customer clicks “buy patient” is the animal’s diagnosis displayed.
The cadre of patients is a diverse group, including a sheep with multiple personality disorder, a crocodile with paranoid psychosis, a turtle with “burn out syndrome”, a snake with a complex, and the most stereotypic toy — a hippopotamus with autism. It’s clear some diagnoses have been lost in translation. Neither burnout syndrome nor complex is listed in the DSM IV (the Psychiatric disorders inventory). “Multiple personality disorder” is now referred to as “dissociative identity disorder” and “paranoid psychosis” most likely refers to “paranoid schizophrenia.”
Dub, the burnt out turtle, is quite possibly the saddest stuffed animal ever manufactured. According to the website “life in the fast lane has caught up with our patient, sending him into a deep depression.” The customer is asked to help Dub come out of his shell, a pun that comes full circle with the removable turtle shell on poor Dub’s back.
Sly the snake could probably pass for a non-mentally ill stuffed animal if it weren’t for his website description, which references his “deeply rooted rattle complex.” It is a symptom that would only make sense in the virtual world of mentally ill stuffed animals. In the virtual clinic, Sly is offered sock puppet therapy in an attempt to help him overcome his complex. No word on the rate of success of puppet therapy for poor virtual Sly. It seems the only way to cure him is to purchase him and attempt to help him yourself. Kroko the crocodile and Dolly the sheep are more clearly mentally ill. Kroko clutches a pillow to his face, wide eyed, looking distressed. Dolly unzips down the middle and turns into a wolf.
Lilo, the hippo with autism, seems to embody many of the stereotypes the autism community has been trying to refute. Lilo has been obsessing over a wooden puzzle, is unable to speak, and his eyes point in two different directions. It’s surprising his description doesn’t express aptitude in math and compare him to Rain Man, a comparison that elicits eye rolls and groans from many in the autism community. It seems a disservice to the 1.5 million individuals with autism to mock the disorder with a stuffed toy.
The entire website takes a flippant attitude towards mental health. From the anti-noose sign in the virtual clinic to the distressed looks on the faces of the toys, it seems the website is more interested in garnering buzz and reinforcing stigma than creating a product that helps individuals with mental illnesses. Still, the question remains, what do you think of the toys?