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As 'Frozen' hits another record, Elsa's ice powers likened to mental illness

Figures announced Monday naming "Frozen" highest-grossing animated film ever. Many people are finding symbolism in the popular Disney movie, including one that compares Elsa's ice powers to mental illness.
Figures announced Monday naming "Frozen" highest-grossing animated film ever. Many people are finding symbolism in the popular Disney movie, including one that compares Elsa's ice powers to mental illness.
Walt Disney Pictures

According to the Los Angeles Times, Disney's hit musical "Frozen" hit a new record over the weekend, becoming the highest-grossing animated movie ever. Its estimated worldwide box-office totals are around $1.072 billion, and that's not counting record-setting DVD sales.

Part of the movie's popularity (besides the amazing talent of Idinia Menzel and others, along with a compelling storyline), may be that people are drawing comparisons between “Frozen” and just about everything else, including the Bible, as seen here in “The Gospel According to ‘Frozen.‘”

Looking at Elsa and her struggle to conceal and control her inner freeze may also represent someone living in the cold, dark, lonely world of mental illness.

Mental illness covers a broad spectrum of conditions: depression, schizophrenia, bipolar, eating disorders, panic disorder, ADHD and others. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, nearly 60 million Americans live with some type of mental illness. Even so, there is still great stigma associated with this complex health arena. Expert say our society has a tough time accepting things it doesn’t understand.

Seriously, how many people run to their friends and colleagues after they’ve been diagnosed with bipolar or depression?

Imagine someone else, though, who is diagnosed with a more comprehensible and physically tangible, yet equally devastating disease or disorder. He or she may immediately reach out to those in his or her personal and professional circles. There is compassion, love and prayer; with mental illness, there is often gossip, judgment and shame.

I suffer from ADHD, non-hyperactivity. My friends and family joked about my obvious ADD for years, but I was only formally diagnosed three years ago. It wasn’t until last spring, however, that I found an effective treatment for the symptoms that had, for years, made everyday tasks arduous struggles. I found myself paralyzed, frozen in fear.

The book, "Delivered from Distraction” by Dr. Ned Hallowell offers refreshing perspective for people suffering from ADHD, explaining that they may be “cursed” with lack of focus and impulsive behaviors, but they also have gifts, like creativity, “colorful” personalities, compassionate spirits, and the ability to see the big picture. Hallowell calls ADHD an asset rather than a liability.

But until people with ADHD accept that as their reality, negative symptoms usually dominate their lives, choking their talents, harming relationships and extinguishing hope. The same can be said of those living with other psychiatric-related conditions.

Elsa was “born,” not “cursed,” with ice powers. Still her father told her, “Conceal, don’t feel.” The poor girl was locked up and isolated from everyone, even her best buddy Anna. Love escaped her. Her spirit deteriorated and fear, what the troll warned would be her greatest enemy, thrived.

When pressures escalated at the Coronation celebration, Elsa could no longer control her ice powers. She unleashed her inner demons, at first to quiet her sister and then to ward off perceived enemies.

Elsa fled and with every freeing footstep, she rediscovered her power’s beautiful potential, relishing the frozen works of art she crafted on her way up the mountain. So long to the “good girl she always had to be!”

Here’s the catch: she was still alone. No one had the opportunity to appreciate the loveliness of her power. They had only seen its foreboding and called her a monster. Elsa didn’t care.

She welcomed “A kingdom of isolation.” She really was the queen.

Like Elsa, people with mental illness often feel isolated, whether they’re on a remote island or in a crowd of people. They're afraid to break free and show their true colors, whether its unexplainable ice powers or mood swings stemming from bipolar disorder.

Elsa’s revelation came toward the end of the movie when Anna was willing to sacrifice her own life to save her sister’s. “Love can thaw.” Elsa finally discovered the power of love — something that had been shut out of her life since she was a little girl — and acceptance. She also realized that her powers didn’t define her. Mental illness shouldn’t define anyone, either.

When doubt creeps back into my mind, the movie’s signature song, “Let it Go,” reminds me that “It’s time to see what I can do, to test the limits and break through.” With professional guidance, I’m learning how to harness my talents to create a full and beautiful life.

There are many interpretations of Disney’s “Frozen.” Some may see this one as a stretch, but those living with a mental illness, whether it’s ADHD, anorexia, schizophrenia or something else, may sense a special kinship with Elsa. But they may be too embarrassed or afraid to admit it.

NAMI is working to dispel erroneous, insulting and often all-out wrong stereotypes through its StigmaBusters program. If, or when, the organization succeeds, people can come clean with their true states of mental health and finally find healing without judgment.

Read more on my blog,

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