A fictional functional family

A fictional functional family A Fictional Functional Family

Down in the Hundred Acre Wood a small community exists within the covers of the much-loved A.A Milne books. Containing wisdom, whimsy and charm in equal measure, the Winnie the Pooh stories have been enjoyed by successive generations and remain as relevant now in the digital age as they ever were. Pooh Bear, Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore, Owl, Rabbit, Roo, little Kanga and Christopher Robin share adventures. They trade songs, hums and honey and take great pleasure in small things.

Imagine how we might perceive the individual characters as markers of the current zeitgeist where everything requires a label. Tigger would be considered hyperactive and needing medication. Pooh would be assumed to have an intellectual disability and Piglet desperately requiring a remedy for his anxiety. Eeyore would be immediately identified as being depressed, Owl delusional with possible dyslexia and Rabbit exhibiting signs of a personality disorder. Kanga could have a hint of postnatal depression while baby Roo, jumping in and out of the mothers pouch is working out attachment issues. Christopher Robin would of courses be the therapist who helps them manage their various behaviours.

In fact the Winnie the Pooh stories tell us that individuals have value beyond ready labels. The various characters have quirks and foibles aplenty but despite or perhaps because of these idiosyncrasies they function as a wonderful collective that surprises itself with its own inventiveness. They all care for each other and rather than mutter darkly or talk behind each other's backs, they accept the notion that perfection is not a fixed point but instead a distant horizon that can be seen but cannot be reached.

We could learn from these stories. We tend to label people. Mention mental health and immediately labels are tagged to individuals. This does not help. The current trend for making anxiety and depression into fashionable accessories for celebrities is diluting the real impact of these conditions on those who do indeed have them. Those who do have anxiety attacks will rarely talk about them. Those with clinical depression are not having their picture snapped by paparazzi as they leave the rehab clinic.

There is growing concern that natural human behaviour such as grief is becoming 'medicalised' into an ailment that requires 'fixing'. The pharmaceutical industry has grief in its sights, knowing that the human penchant for seeking solutions in the form of pills for ills means profits from sadness.

There is no denying that grief is a powerful force that rocks even the most resolute of people. Grief, loss and sadness are all part of the human condition, requiring human solutions. People need people who support them - and it is important to note that this might include health professionals. It does not need labels that stigmatize or categorise. Like the characters in the Hundred Acre Wood, we need to rise above the differences, refuse easy labels and see ourselves as a collective enterprise that values all participates.

Like Winnie the Pooh we all probably need to hum more often and instead of blithely suggesting to people in difficulty that they built a bridge and get over it, that they join us on that bridge to play Pooh sticks for a while.

Terry Sarten is a writer, social worker and musician who still reads Winnie the Pooh stories.

Feedback email: tgs@inspire.net.nz

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