Doctors see “Stranger Things” as a metaphor for mental illness

  • “Stranger Things” has won praise for exploring deeper themes of identity, friendship, alienation, community, and mental health.
  • At Rutgers University, psychiatry professor Anthony Tobia will take advantage of the Duffer Brothers series to teach a course on psychiatric disorders.
  • Some of the show’s characters display distinctive signs of PTSD and other mental illnesses that can be used to illustrate how they affect people in everyday life.

As much as “Stranger Things” may have been a blast of mystery, action, and cloying 1980s nostalgia, the series has also won praise for exploring deeper themes about identity, friendship, alienation, community and mental health.

At Rutgers University, psychiatry professor Anthony Tobia will take advantage of the Duffer Brothers series to deliver a course on psychiatric disorders. Some of the show’s characters show hallmark signs of post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses that can be used to illustrate how they affect people in everyday life.

“When you watch a series as thought-provoking as Stranger Things, there’s a tendency for people to not just watch, but relate to characters with similar sentiments,” Tobia told Rutgers Today. “To identify those feelings in oneself, starting with a relationship forged with a fictional character, there is a window of opportunity for individuals to identify and therefore take action in their own lives.”

The elective course will be called “Twittervision”

The elective course, called “Twittervision”will have Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School students share their psychiatric views on characters and plotlines, using the Twitter hashtag #RWJstrangerthings.

Critics of the first seven episodes of the season have widely written that the series tries symbolize mental illness and highlight the importance of mental health. The discussion of “Stranger Things” as an allegory led Tobia students to choose the series as the focal point of the course.

“For most people, when you incorporate movies and TV shows into the curriculum, especially the medical school curriculum, it comes from left field,” Tobia said. “But the bottom line is that great shows make great conferences. If you really want students to buy, 95% of whom aren’t going to go to psychiatry, I’ve found that if you let students tell you what that big show is, buying is a lot easier.”

The complexity of “Stranger Things” lies in the story behind Vecna’s dark and murderous rampage in Hawkins.

stranger things neighbor

Tobia told Rutgers Today that the scenes showing Vecna’s powersrecall the symptoms that people experience when suffering from TPTSD, depression and anxiety.

“There are early warning signs for those struggling with these mental illnesses. Be aware of your surroundings and situations, and when you see things ‘go dark’, don’t ignore that warning sign,” said Tobia. “This idea of, ‘Well, if I don’t pay attention, it will just go away.’ It does not work. When things get dark, metaphorically or literally when they come into Upside Downthis is not a time to ignore what is around you, it is a time to act”.

The program can be used as a point of instruction to help people recognize the signs of mental illness

The program can be used as a point of instruction for help people recognize the signs of mental illness and seek professional help, Tobia added. That may include developing methods to counter disturbing thoughts and finding protective activities that encourage people with mental health problems.

More importantly, Tobia believes that the popularity of “Stranger Things” can be used to bring mental health conversations to the forefront.

“When you watch a thought-provoking series like ‘Stranger Things,’ there’s a tendency for people to not just watch, but relate to characters with similar feelings,” Tobia said. “To identify those feelings in oneself, starting with a relationship forged with a fictional character, there is a window of opportunity for individuals to identify and therefore take action in their own lives.”

Tobia plans to refrain from watching Season 4 until it runs its course. “Twitterverse” in January of next year.

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