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Nancy Schimelpfening

"Avatar" Movie Makes People Depressed?

By January 12, 2010

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This morning an article on CNN entitled "Audiences Experience 'Avatar' Blues" came across my desk. In the article, author Jo Piazza claims that the movie "Avatar" is such a realistic experience for fans that they are literally becoming depressed and suicidal because they yearn for the world of Pandora to be real.

My first reaction? You've got to be joking! I don't want to minimize anyone's experience of depression - maybe they are already prone to depression and the realism of the movie is simply contributing to what they are already feeling? - but, to me, this seems to making light of what is in reality a very serious condition.

As I read the article further I found that there is a forum called "Avatar Forums" in which an entire thread of more than 1,000 posts has been devoted to people experiencing feelings of depression as a result of the movie. As I read some of the quotes from forum members, I quickly realized, however, that no one really seemed that depressed or even suicidal. Apparently the movie paints a vivid picture of a world in such strong contrast to our own that it creates a sense of longing for what could/should be in our own.

At this point I was confused. The article initially seemed to be suggesting that people were truly depressed about this movie. I looked back at the introductory paragraph. Yes, she did claim that fans were experiencing depression and suicidal thoughts. But, did the fan quotes back this up? Not really. Let's take one of the more extreme quotes as an example.

Ever since I went to see 'Avatar' I have been depressed. Watching the wonderful world of Pandora and all the Na'vi made me want to be one of them. I can't stop thinking about all the things that happened in the film and all the tears and shivers I got from it," the fan wrote. "I even contemplate suicide thinking that if I do I will be rebirthed in a world similar to Pandora and that everything is the same as in 'Avatar."

One can clearly see based upon his last comment he is not clinically depressed or seriously considering suicide. It's all hyperbole on his part to express just how emotionally moving the film is. Which bring me back to my original thought. This article is indeed making light of a very real condition. No matter how moving this movie may be, it can not compare to the pain of clinical depression. To suggest that fans of any popular movie are "depressed" or "suicidal" simply to write a sensational story is a slap in the face to those who actually do have depression. While I don't doubt that what these fans are feeling is a real phenomenon, I think it's irresponsible of the article's author to imply it in any way resembles clinical depression.

What are your thoughts?

January 12, 2010 at 12:32 pm
(1) John@how to beat depression naturally says:

Well we all know that suffering from depression and feeling depressed are two entirely different things and I guess its just a way that a person describes his immediate feelings rather than being exposed to the full blown form of depression. Its like being so angry at a person that you blurt out “I could kill them” when that is not really what is meant, its a poor choice of words and feelings taken out of context. I did not see the movie yet, but my parents are retired and go to the movies often. Mom called just the other day and said that they just saw Avatar and it was probably the best movie she ever seen.

January 12, 2010 at 5:16 pm
(2) Swotu says:

Thank you. Finally a voice of reason.
Swotu from Naviblue.com

January 12, 2010 at 5:29 pm
(3) April says:

When there is so much in the word really depressing people I find it hard to beleive this comment is even here. Then again what causes one person pain may or may not cause another pain. Just wondering is it a waste of time or not? Who am I to say? If this did indeed really depress someone I am sorry but I dont understand it.

January 13, 2010 at 6:31 am
(4) Cin says:

I do suffer with clinical depression and I have not seen Avatar. But I will sometimes have a vivid dream that takes me to a place where I am not depressed. Where I feel loved, valued, and accepted and I wake up longing to return.

May 6, 2011 at 1:50 am
(5) Telitha says:

Clinical depression is a man-made disease that comes from people looking for an excuse to be upset. They say they have a unsolvable depression and take medication, and “happy pills” as I like to call them. I still claim that people with ‘clinical depression’, are just drug junkies looking for another fix. I was with this article until it got to, “No matter how moving this movie may be, it can not compare to the pain of clinical depression”. If Avatar makes them sad and its not a real depression, then you making yourself sad is not a real depression.

May 12, 2011 at 1:00 am
(6) April (not the one above) says:

I am appalled by your comment. You seem to be very close minded and misinformed. I for one am diagnosed with clinical depression and am not a “drug junkie looking for another fix” my friends and family had to fight with me for months to convince me to try taking medication for this. I finally did and there is a significant difference in my functionality and emotional well being. TRUE clinical depression comes from a chemical imbalance in a person’s brain that causes emotional instability with ups and downs and all kinds of other issues. While I do agree that there are those that merely seek the attention of others or those that just want to be on medicine for something, I think you are ignorant to believe that this applies to everyone. I do not however, believe that this movie is making anyone depressed unless a person is already clinically depressed and is just reacting to an emotional connection with the movie. Also, one of the things that makes having this “disease” for lack of a better word, is that there are many people like you who believe that someone just wants to be sad all the time. This is not the case, once again i stress, for TRUE clinical depression cases. If someone has a malfunction with there body producing agents to heal itself they are called hemophiliacs, if someone has a low HBC they are anemic, if someone has a chemical imbalance in their brains they are called sad drug junkies? No, it is the same type of illness, there just aren’t physical side effects like other illnesses that spawn from a defect in some system in the body. Sorry for the passionate response, but I can’t stand when people treat this illness like a sorry excuse for something.

January 13, 2010 at 12:40 pm
(7) Darkenwulf says:

How many of us when the world is not the brightest or the best will not yearn for a previous time in history or a boook or a movie that takes us away from where we are. In the world of literature and movies, it’s called escapism. In no way is this clinical depression except in the cases where the person could be diagnosed and treated for a deep psychological condition. The article is just another way for a talking head to make themself heard.

January 13, 2010 at 3:57 pm
(8) Green Thumb says:

What is depression?

For me it is when a person feels cornered in a situation that he or she cannot solve, and extremely does not accept the condition of not being able to solve. That is our chemistry playing with our feelings! or vice-versa?! Isn’t it doctor?
Do you want to be in Pandora?
Why don’t you go to Amazon or to the African jungle?
Every consequence has its cause. Am I right?
In the Amazon you can have a life alike the one from Pandora. You can fish and hunt with a bow-and-arrow, you don’t need clothes, you bathe in the clear waters from this river, you go to the “bathroom” in the woods, but there is no toilet paper (only leaves)…
But you are going to be as close to nature as possible, with all those animals and insects ready to take your soul back to the creator. You will have to find a way to protect yourself from the big cats to the small flying beings that transmit diseases.
No air conditioner, no cars, no cell phones, no internet, no fast food, nooo piiiizzaaa… no tap water / or hot water.
Did you get the idea?
Don’t be depressed! Go there! Take a training in Amazon.

January 13, 2010 at 8:49 pm
(9) karhill54 says:

I would always take someone seriously who says they feel depressed or are having suicidal thoughts, and I say that as someone who is authentically, clinically depressed and on medication. Regardless of what triggers the feelings, having depressed feelings is how clinical depression begins. A person who is still feeling down a day or 2 after seeing the film probably already has a tendency toward to depression. To say that it is somehow a “slap in the face” to a “real” depressed person is missing the point. I was that person once, and here I am today.

January 13, 2010 at 9:20 pm
(10) laura says:

I think the movie is pretty recent? Isn’t it necessary, for a diagnosis (and for treatment) of depression to have certain criteria where there is a list of things and there have to be a certain amount over a certain time period (unless, maybe, for someone who is hospitalized for a suicide attempt, and even then a formal diagnosis of clinical or major depression is not always made right away. Sometimes, for instance, a suicide attempt will, (and unfortunately, some of them will succeed) happen in the acute grief or despair of something like breaking up with someone, separation or divorce, etc. But clinical depression is chronic in nature. Sure, meds can help and can be effective for many people and allow them to function symptom free, at least for a while.

I agree that entertainment media can be extremely moving and that the effect does not always go away right away. I know too that for some people, experiencing such media can lead to fantasy. I know too that all sorts of things can trigger, say, flashbacks in someone who has PTSD, borderline personality, or dissociative disorders. No, I wouldn’t ignore anyone’s suicidal thoughts. Those things need to be investigated, talked about and sometimes the person needs professional help. Fantasy could, I suppose, result in delusion and a psychotic break. But I doubt that one science fiction movie, no matter how well scripted, acted and screened, could create mass depression and suicidality.

In the fifties and early sixties, TV was full of idealized worlds, even on this planet. June Cleaver and Harriet and all that “Father Knows Best” stuff may have entertained, and may have contributed to the development of the idea that if a problem isn’t solved in half an hour or an hour or a few weeks, well, that can’t be real can it? After all, lots of people want instant gratification. If wishing you were somewhere else, or that you have been someone happier in a past life, that doesn’t necessarily lead to lengthy and severe clinical depression. Now I’m mad at myself for wasting both the readers time and mine writing this. This article doesn’t deserve so much attention; that’s what the author wants. Yes, it breeds misconceptions. Yes, I can see how it could seem to trivialize depression. But, really! I was sad when Dumbledore died in Harry Potter Six. Yes, there was a lingering few days of sadness and a hope that maybe somehow he’d be brought back to life in the next book. But that’s far far from depression. I know that; I have chronic treatment-resistant depression and yes, I might even consider DBS if insurance ever covers it.

January 13, 2010 at 11:31 pm
(11) Jake G says:

Not to offend anyone here, but I feel that this ‘depression’ issue is not due to the movie. And it is simply a movie. I feel that it is not necessary to come after the move for their thoughts on depression. What if this movie hadn’t been made ? Then what would it have been next to make them depressed ? It’s an on-going cycle.

January 14, 2010 at 9:10 am
(12) survivor says:

I have depression (on fluoxetine, prozac) for almost 12 years. i have watched the movie avatar online and i do NOT get any suicidal thoughts at all from the movie. it has great cgi effects and… grrreat CGI EFFECTS? and that is it. i dont see how anyone can be so negatively affected by a good cgi movie, if im a fan already, i should be very wowed, its all make believe my friends.

January 14, 2010 at 4:21 pm
(13) Pissedoffchick says:

WHAT A BUNCH OF FRUITS… you guyz made the world it is… im 15! My skool work sucks, my job sukz, putting up with kids everyday (who are CRUEL) suks … but have i ONCE thought about suicide…. NO They say that being a teenager is the hardest part of you life… they are rite buut THIS IS A MOVIE its not real, ya i would love for our world to look like that but NO i dnt want people to get their hopes up about it.. how STUPID those people who think about suicide after… and just DUMB!!! they are classafied to me as RETARDS!!! :) ) bye ~Jenna

January 14, 2010 at 10:48 pm
(14) pearse says:

Get a Bloody grip! It’s a MOVIE. Why try and visit your troubles on everyone else. Smarten the hell up!!

January 16, 2010 at 4:12 am
(15) Keith says:

Avatar. What might have been. The Garden of Eden. The Na’vi chose the tree of life and the humans chose tree of knowledge of good and evil.

January 17, 2010 at 4:31 am
(16) Bipolar babe says:

Being bipolar, I have been experiencing dramatic reactions to movies since I was 13. Certain movies just affect me emotionally or trigger something within me that sends me into a depression. Avatar did not do that to me, but I knew going into it, It could. It could be the vivid colors, strong emotional responses, complex situations. The people were probably already dealing with depression, and this triggered an episode. I am surprised I haven’t seen more information on movie-related triggered depression.

January 17, 2010 at 6:03 am
(17) Shelley says:

Of course the film was sobering–it deals with genocide, which is a very real fact in this world. That’s enoough to make anyone depressed.

January 17, 2010 at 5:05 pm
(18) Keith says:

In reality it would be more practical to help the real tribes of the world through groups such as New Tribes Mission than spend money on a fantasy tribe.

January 18, 2010 at 11:22 am
(19) Keith says:

All things are possible. Only believe!
As for the resurrection thing. If you want it’s yours. Talk to Jesus.

January 18, 2010 at 5:07 pm
(20) Aaron says:

Thanks, you are the first reporter to take the “Avatar Blues” and actually make sense of it. I will look forward to reading more of your articles!

Aaron from naviblue.com

January 19, 2010 at 12:49 am
(21) Dick says:

It is a movie people! Why does somebody always have to look for controversy in everything? Get a life you neurotic idiots!

January 24, 2010 at 8:27 am
(22) cookie monster says:

its a movie get over it people the world will never be like theres its all made up!

January 24, 2010 at 2:10 pm
(23) Serentiy says:

I actually am clinically depressed but this movie did not depress me. I cried a couple of times and was disturbed by what was happening to the Navi…but I think it was more because it was such a realistic portrayal of what has happened to almost all tribal cultures that have existed on our planet. Native Americans, Australian aboriginals, etc.

I think so many people feel depressed because we all know deep down inside that Earth did used to be an extremely beautiful place to live and it was inhabited by people like the Navi and as civilizations grew and became power hungry they did to these tribes exactly what happened in the movie. It is very disturbing to see such a similar parallel to what has happened here on Earth.

I left the theatre thinking that in order for our planet to have a happy ending like the movie, all environmentalists would need to rise up against corrupt governments and coorporations in revolution, just like all the Navi did.

However, since so many people are having this response…could we not see it as a sign of hope? Maybe it just means we are waking up from the brainwashed state that we have been in for so long. Maybe movies such as this (along with all the literature out there that follows a similar theme) will make people gather together and take action so we could start restoring our planet to the beautiful place it once was. The Navi did it…why can’t we?

January 28, 2010 at 11:20 pm
(24) JasonChurch says:

Is it reasonable to assume that everyone has realized at some point in time that we are not as free as we would like to believe?

Clearly the ideology of freedom has been present in humanity for thousands of years and even as we live today we exist in a form of slavery. Therefore, those who most relate to the movie may be those that are most aware of our lack of freedom but can not put their finger on the problem. One only needs to closely examine the Kogi tribe to see the correlation between the Avatar movie plot, the movie is another wakeup call.

If Hollywood is trying to capitalize on our feelings of helplessness, and world wide we do in fact feel this way than it only follows that there is a reason for our feelings of helplessness. Further investigation reveals movies like Zeitgiest, The Heart of the World, The Corporation, and WE are produced in an attempt to show us why we feel this way.

Our society is built around fact, so I pose the question what is the fact. We feel depressed at our sense of helplessness, that there is something larger than ourselves and that our lives feel like a trap.

Cameronís very clear objective in the creation of Avatar cultivates these feelings and gives us hope that humanity can change. Those who are prone to depression will have one of two responses, either a denial of hope or an acceptance that the future can be brighter.

Hence the reason why those with Bi-Polar disorder feel no difference in watching the movie, from one extreme to the other the movie explores extreme sorrow and overwhelming joy thus satisfying both necessities of the disorder so for those who do exhibit this condition the movie satisfies their condition to neutrality.

To those who may be depressed, please do not be depressed at the idea of a more beautiful life, begin to make your life more beautiful. Such is the words of our eight year old Buddhas and eighty year old Buddhas, such is the words of Jesus Christ, Mother Theresa, Ghandi, and countless other world leaders. I ask those who have intellectual knowledge on this subject and who dare to watch the afore mentioned documentaries; can all these people be wrong? Look at the message behind the movie. What was Cameron trying to tell you?

Please continue this discussion it is our birth right to dive into this subject a little deeper.

January 29, 2010 at 1:29 am
(25) Keith says:

A few thoughts.
Statistically being born is the most dangerous thing you can ever do.
My grandfather used to say, “There are more things in heaven and earth than any human mind can ever imagine”

January 29, 2010 at 4:13 am
(26) Joey says:

Yes, it is ridiculous to suggest that viewers of Avatar, who are otherwise healthy, could become truly depressed or suicidal as a result of this film.
As someone who has suffered from depression for seven years as well as seen the movie in question, I feel I as though I have some credentials on the matter. Firstly, I liked Avatar; I thought it was well-done. But the idea that one could truly feel suicidal or even depressed for an extended period of time solely due to the viewing of this film is preposterous, and indeed does make light of a serious illness.
It’s unfortunate that this article comes from a news source as reputable as CNN. As is stated above, this is sensationalism and a slap in the face to the real sufferers, in addition to loved ones and even the professionals who have dedicated their lives in support.
As the general public’s’ understanding of mental illness is poor to begin with, this can only make things worse.

Thank you, Nancy, for your insight, and for bringing this to my (and everyone’s) attention.

February 2, 2010 at 1:20 am
(27) Sukhmandir Kaur says:

I felt elated when I saw the movie, because it seemed that someone in the world understands me in a very real way even though it’s expressed through a glorified cartoon. It is entirely possible to have the all encompassing connection portrayed in Avatar. I think people feel depressed because they have been awakened and realize their is something more than the superficial and long for the Eywa experience, but don’t know how to evoke it outside of the theater. It’s a good thing really if it can bring about change where we all live in greater harmony.

February 3, 2010 at 12:57 am
(28) Dena M. May says:

Avatar to me reminds me of E.T. when I saw it for my first time as a child… Ahead of its time and straight to the point…
I am unsure why this film is causing such an outrage for people.
Avatar is the first 3-D Movie of it’s kind! Why must we judge it so strongly? If anyone was contemplating suicide, I am pretty sure that they were already thinking about before the movie was released. It’s simple people. Get it together. Quit thinking so hard.

February 4, 2010 at 10:03 pm
(29) Fred Kruger says:

Your article hits the bulls eye. I’ve never seen the movie, and never will. Any trailers or imagery I’ve seen repulse me.
I’m sure Avatar will be a convenient go-to for any media hungry hack. All this movie seems to have done, is make the world a smaller more suffocating place for some people. I was just reading elsewhere; “Does the Internet Cause the Blues?”. Hogwash. Like global warming.

February 19, 2010 at 1:04 pm
(30) rfigley says:

All should listen to James Cameron interviewed by NPR. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=123810319

Too much talk here about what and what is not depression. The bigger picture is our ability to become one with our environment. This is not a new concept, in fact it’s ancient, but one that has been forgotten and in some cases supressed by those that wish to contol others.
The link above could help people understand that the movie was inspired by what we can be as humans. So the idea is to inspire us to pursue making Earth a Pandora. The beauty of Pandora was inspired by what is real here on earth. The communication between the Na’vi and the environment is also possible by humans. Just a matter of looking within and blocking out the urban clutter we’re all bombarded with every day. Read Celestine Prophecy, look into Reiki and various forms of meditation.

May 2, 2010 at 6:35 pm
(31) kylekickass says:

i agree that that article was stupid. I felt like ii wasted my life. thankyou for writing this…
-kyle an avid reader of things

May 13, 2010 at 3:41 am
(32) Mike says:

I’ve seen the movie a few times and each time it makes me more and more depressed. I have no history of depression and was raised in a great environment. The depression is neither permanent nor prominent- but it is undeniable when I think about the deep meanings in the movie. The movie attempts to, and successfully illustrates an existence that is elegant and just plain better than ours. It portrays our awful downfalls (greed, etc.) through the human actions in the movie, and it illustrates through the navi people the deeper connection with the world and each other that we will never, ever find. For example, the Navi people connect and cooperate with the animals and live harmoniously. Our civilization instinctually, systematically, and mercilessly slaughters mass-produced animals so that we can have frozen TV dinners while we watch Family Guy. And we know its wrong. I’m no vegetarian. I’m no activist for animal rights. I love family guy (have you seen the new one where brian and stewie get locked in a vault? that episode is a masterpiece… no other tv show has reached the heights that that episode did). And I share this obvious lack of character with everyone around me. How can a thinking man not be depressed by this? Those that say they get severe depression from this movie and want to kill themselves are most likely the sophomoric, lower class audience who’s opinions don’t and probably never will matter for much of anything. But to say that this movie doesn’t move you- well, you must be dead.

June 2, 2010 at 6:59 pm
(33) Brienne says:

i feel liek thats rediculous. if peoiple get depressed from a movie, then thats dumb.

June 21, 2010 at 4:48 am
(34) Wiser says:

It is silly to blame the movie Avatar for depression and suicidal thoughts… Avatar is one of the greatest movies ever made and it is beautiful. Does the movie make people emotional, yes. Is it the source of clinical depression, no – far from it. I am in fact, clinically depressed and suicidal at times, but the movie Avatar didnt make feel more depressed. In fact, the movie made me feel like living even more. If anything it helped to relieve my depression.

October 1, 2010 at 1:45 am
(35) srae says:

Thank you for this piece. I find myself right now awake with insomnia searching for hope that people who understand REAL depression exist. It is even more depressing when you truly are depressed that no one is there to support you, and most importantly-believe that you are really struggling. Even most doctors don’t really take it as seriously as someone having a physical issue in my experience. It is really hard for the people who don’t suffer from clinical depression to truly understand. And really I do understand the non-depressed vs the depressed. Because when I am doing well I too do not understand why or how I could have ever felt so bad. Who would want to?

November 14, 2010 at 1:45 pm
(36) red says:

It is just a movie. I did not feel depressed after seeing it. The human race will eventually progress to that point. We have thousands of years ago and it will happen again. The Ancient Egyptians were spiritual. The Indians in India are spiritual today. As people of this planet, you have to make it a reality rather than wanting to kill yourself so you could be in a place like Pandora. You have to live out this first to learn. Make a difference. Love your fellow man instead of being rude or insulting another human being. If you don’t like people now, you’re not ever going to like people in other life times. In Spiritual based societies, everyone works for the common good of the One.

November 22, 2010 at 8:15 pm
(37) Cody says:

I too am very depressed about wanting to be an avatar. I am a 115 year old boy and I don’t like fiction movies but avatar really caught my eye and as soon as I got done watching the movie I researched all about the na’vi people. It may sound crazy but I preyed to god that it would happen to me. I can’t help it though. It sounds crazy to me but I would leave my whole life and everyone in it to be an avatar

March 9, 2011 at 3:15 pm
(38) Unimportant says:

I’m under treatment of clinical depression and I always notice that so many people speak about depression without having any knowledge what depression is. In my opinion these 1000 articles of people seeming to have “depression” are an insult against a real depression.

October 1, 2011 at 6:54 pm
(39) jereth says:

i need help from somebody i want to apply to the waiting list for dbs, but i dont know how i have been suffering from acute sever treatment resistant depression that has not gone away since i was 14, I am now 18, i want my life back. i want to enjoy things again. I want to be productive.

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