Empathy for Mr. Grinch?

Monday, December 13, 2010 — Dr. Cynthia Bulik reveals that watching the Glee holiday special re-invigorated her "empathy for the Grinch," who may, she suspects, be suffering from depression.

Empathy for Mr. Grinch? click to enlarge "The first step in seeking treatment is recognizing that what you are experiencing is depression, even if it is disguised as in the case of the Grinch," Dr. Bulik says.

Dr. Cynthia Bulik wrote this …

CHAPEL HILL, NC — It’s hard to have empathy for the Grinch. On the surface he just sucks all of the joy out of the holiday season. When we made this video, I was thinking about how many different ways depression can present. Our stereotype is that a depressed person is “sad” or “down in the dumps” or lethargic and sleeping all of the time. But depression has many faces (in the Grinch’s case, a pretty green one!). Depression can present as irritability, scratchiness, agitation, and actually sleeping less not more. People who are depressed may push people away— often at the time that they need others the most.

My empathy for the Grinch was re-invigorated last week when I watched the Glee holiday special. If you’re not a “Gleek” I’ll bring you up to speed. Sue Sylvester, the mean spirited, cynical, and selfish coach of the Cheerios cheer leading squad has organized her life around bringing down the Glee Club.

Last week, dressed as the Grinch, complete with greenface, she set out to crush any inkling of holiday spirit and goodwill that the Glee Club members had—cutting down the tree, stealing presents, destroying decorations. Just like the Grinch, she couldn’t tolerate anyone else feeling joyful. I kept wondering if there was help for Sue. Could she possibly be this mean? Is this treatable?

I don’t know about Sue, but depression is treatable. Both therapy and medication can be effective in helping people of all ages overcome depression. The first step in seeking treatment is recognizing that what you are experiencing is depression, even if it is disguised as in the case of the Grinch. If you are concerned, talk with your doctor, a trusted family member or friend, someone who provides spiritual guidance in your life. If you’re not sure, you can also take an online screening that might help you understand the feelings you are having. Read more about depression by visiting the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Alliance on Mental Illness and check out my analysis of our friend Mr. Grinch.

Ever wonder what makes the Grinch so mean? Why he can't stand to be around people, especially the Whos? UNC psychologist offers some insight into why we take joy in singing, "You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch."

Cynthia Bulik, PhD is the William R. and Jeanne H. Jordan Professor of Eating Disorders in the Department of Psychiatry and is Director of the UNC Eating Disorders Program.  She is also a Professor of Nutrition in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Media contacts: Stephanie Crayton, (919) 951-4758, scrayton@unch.unc.edu or Tom Hughes, (919) 966-6047, tahughes@unch.unc.edu


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