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Mentally Ill Stuffed Animals? Believe It

Mentally Ill Stuffed Animals? Believe It

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various psychiatric disorders, allowing “doctors” or customers to treat the toys in a virtual clinic, using various outdated and stereotypical methods.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?

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Daryl Mitchell

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129 comments

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3:35PM PST on Feb 19, 2013

"Only when a customer clicks “buy patient” is the animal’s diagnosis displayed."

Except that it's the WRONG diagnosis; it's the one the plushies get stuck with when you GIVE UP on them.

None of the plushies actually suffer from a mental illness. They all suffer from trauma, and the point of the game is to get them to reveal what that trauma is, so that they can then recover from it, at which point their "pathology" disappears.

As someone whose life is filled with loved ones left and right suffering from some kind or other of mental illness (depression, bipolar, psychosis, autism, personality disorder), I absolutely adore this game, for two reasons:
1. For presenting psychiatric hospital patients as LOVABLE in their own right. They are all weird at first, but they are also all sweet and courageous - truly lovable personalities.
2. For teaching people not to give up too easily on mentally ill people. Sure, in real life, mental illnesses are not due to trauma, and they can't be easily cured by just finding the root of the trauma. But the principle remains: try everything you can to bring some relief, to make life a bit easier for the patient, to help improve their condition a little.

Don't give up too quickly... lest you completely misunderstand the situation and end up condemning a game and a website for what they do NOT do. That website doesn't make fun of mentally ill people any more than Lilo is actually autistic - as you would know if you'd act

3:34AM PST on Dec 2, 2011

go do deviantart, many trailblazing, brave and creative young girls make dog characters with bipolar disorder, schizophernia and the likes. so this is not shocking or unique.

2:45PM PST on Nov 21, 2011

"Lilo the hippo with autism" I have Autism and other issues myself I don't think the game mocks anyone with these issues. I think it's very cute/comforting actually. All the stories are both sad and heart warming. So far I have completed every level but Lilo's I guess I'm having trouble. I can't see the answer because I have a similar problem LOL. Having dealt with the mental health system it definitely has it's flaws people complain about the old CBT/psychoanalysis methods still used in parts of Europe, but I don't think the drugs they push on people in the US/Canada are any better. Improving the quality of a patients life seems to come 2nd to medication, I think medication should be a last resort for people who are higher functioning. Doctors who know better are petitioning against the new DSM 5, because it's beginning to target the healthy population in order to sell more drugs.

7:30AM PST on Dec 6, 2010

Why not in Germany - they are the ones who removed the psychic from psychiatry - they have come full circle - eugenics gets easier all the time - perhaps a game involving the eliminating of certain unfit stuffed animals will be in some future Christmas stocking.

2:10PM PDT on Oct 12, 2010

IDK It does seem to be exploitive but it might have a good effect if it were to teach love and tolerance. Kids who take care of "sick" toys are more likely to help "sick" friends. In this way, it might not be too bad. As long as kids aren't encourage to abuse or maim the toys. But, I agree, it does seem exploitive.

1:09PM PDT on Oct 2, 2010

Very strange!

9:23AM PDT on Sep 30, 2010

this is so stupid, i could not finish reading it!! tracy cruze, i feel for you and could not agree more!!

8:32AM PDT on Sep 30, 2010

My son has autism, my brother was diagnosed with Aspergers at the age of 33, my older brother likely is as well. It was many years after my son was diagnosed that my brother was. My son, by ignorant people, was compared to Rain Man. They said, "All autistic people are that way, it's an accurate portrayal." It angers me when it comes to people and autism, people pop out with useless advice, they sometimes think my son has behavioral problems because he doesn't listen (That's when he's off in his own world), he gets made fun of at times. Making stuffed animals like that is pure stupidity. Mental illness shouldn't be mocked, especially when it's so often misunderstood. I have type 2 Diabetes, should they make a Barbie doll who takes Metformin and occasional insulin shots? Or a morbidly obese doll that gets a gastric bypass, press a button to make them vomit from dumping syndrome? Or Anorexia doll? That's about how much sense those stuffed animals make to me. Stuffed animals are for hugging, not curing. Sheesh.

7:00AM PDT on Sep 30, 2010

I have a loved one with a mental illness. And the stigma we face on a daily basis and ignorance{ Elouis c}, never ceases to amaze me. Shame on these toy makers for trivalizing a terrable and heartbreaking illness.

5:31PM PDT on Sep 29, 2010

I guess the little people should sue Disney over racist Snow White and her Seven Dwarfs.

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