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  • Writer's pictureMichi Marosszeky

Seeing the unseeable in animation

Updated: Feb 9, 2022

Discussions around mental health can be confronting due to the sensitive, and often personal, nature of the topic. Although most of us want to listen to someone who is struggling, it can be difficult if we are battling ourselves and don’t have the capacity to completely empathise. Conversations around mental health will always be one of the most effective ways to ensure someone gets the support they need. However, the digital age has provided many other options for unpacking this complex issue - namely, animation.

Animation provides rich, qualitative data such as colours, movement and expression. By placing above the head of a character, we immediately recognise the emotions of that character, or by flooding the screen with sunshine and overlaying uplifting music, our mood is lifted and a sense of hope is generated. Using animation, the possibilities to represent the many varied human emotions are infinite, it is an amazing way to share lived experiences in a sensitive and universal way.

Animation is also an incredible medium because it does not age discriminate. Mental health has become a topic of increased focus following the COVID-19 lockdowns, especially for the younger generations. Disney pioneered animation with Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs in 1938 - captivating young minds through a medium focused on drawn movement. Disney’s recent films, Frozen and Encanto and Sol, highlight the need to accept diversity and inspire confidence in their young audiences. Initiating these types of conversations can be extremely challenging, but animation is the most suitable medium through which such sensitive and delicate issues can be explored and exposed.

Both our Refugee and Mental Health series were created using animation. Based on research from the Black Dog Institute. was found, that audience feedback revealed just how effective these series were. In series 1 (Refugees), 87% strongly agreed that the film challenged public misconceptions about refugees; in series 2 (Mental Health) changed public misconception increased to 89%. Additionally, 70% strongly agreed that the films helped them recognise that they, or someone they knew, may need help - this is a powerful statistic. Recognising that there is a problem is often the hardest step. The gentle nature of our animations promotes hope through courage and sharing.

Studies, other than those by Woven Threads, have shown that animations do help individuals externalise various psychological problems. In their study, Animation in Therapy, filmmaker Professor Joan Ashworth and occupational therapist Helen Mason joined forces to explore the innovative uses of haptic or tactile animation in clinical and community therapeutic practice. They discovered that this type of animation can be harnessed to explore difficult emotions because haptic animation expresses them in a manner that is impossible to achieve through traditional therapy practices. It helps people understand their complex inner workings through artistic expression. Animation also de-personalises an experience and provides a layer of anonymity, thus the subject is less targeted and the production can be consumed without fear of judgement and personal biases.

On a final note, animation is just one of many ways to connect with one another. It allows serious topics to be discussed, explored and experienced through a more accessible medium. Re-watching the series on the Woven Threads website and SBS on Demand is a great place to start. See below for links and references.

Link to Woven Thread’s series on mental health:

Help is available.

If you require immediate assistance, please call 000.

If you are in distress, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or chat online.

Have something on your mind? You can reach out to BeyondBlue at 1300 22 4636 or chat online.

Under 25? You can reach Kids Helpline at 1800 55 1800 or chat online.

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