What Finding Dory Teaches Us About Mental Illness




First of all, yes I am turning a Pixar movie meant for kids into a lesson about mental health. Just roll with it.

Secondly, this contains spoilers so if you haven’t watched it yet and plan to, go watch it and come back. {It’s on Netflix}

Third, while Dory does not have a definitive diagnosis in the movie, she suffers with severe short term memory loss and it seems pretty clear this is some type of mental disorder.

Now on to the lessons that we can learn from this superbly written movie.

Dory Doesn’t Feel Sorry For Herself

Her mental disorder affects every single aspect of her life, and while she does feel sad at times about her illness negatively affecting others, she never feels sorry for herself. She chooses to remain positive in spite of challenging circumstances.

Dory Tries Her Best And Never Gives Up

She never says “Oh well, I can’t remember anything so I’m just going to go off and do whatever I want.” Or, “I’m going to sulk around all day making myself miserable.” No she keeps trying. She keeps fighting for herself and for those that she cares about.

Dory Is Not Ashamed Of Her Illness

She is open and up front about the fact that she has short term memory loss. She is never afraid to speak up and let others know she is different.

Dory Knows She Is Valuable

She knows her mental disorder may make it harder to help her friends, but she knows that she is valuable and she can do something to help.

Dory Found Her Support System

Dory chooses to surround herself with others that help her, that support her. There are many difficult situations she made it through because of her friends and family.

Dory Knows Her Limitations And Gets Help When Needed

She knew there were some things she could not do on her own. Remembering the directions needed to navigate her way through the pipes? Not an option. But that’s okay, cause that’s what friends are for. She never felt ashamed asking for help. She knew if they worked together they could do anything.

Dory’s Parents Helped Her Learn To Live With Her Illness

Dory’s parents never try to change her. They never make her feel like there is something wrong with her. They do recognize she is different and they do what they can to help her cope and live with these differences.

Dory’s Parents Are Patient With Her

They don’t get exasperated with her when she can’t remember, yet again. They worry about her getting hurt or being separated from them, but they never get upset with her. This is not her fault and they know that.

Dory’s Parents Never Give Up On Her

Dory was separated from Jenny and Charlie for several years. But that whole time they never gave up hope that she would somehow, someway find them again. They spent every day putting out shells for her to follow, so that she could find her way home again.

Even Caring, Well Meaning Friends May Say The Wrong Thing Sometimes

There is no doubt Marlin cares about Dory. However, when frustrated and scared for the safety of his son he spouted off, saying she should ‘go off and forget, because that’s what she does best.’ Was that kind or helpful? No, of course not. But he has his own anxiety disorder to deal with and in a high pressure situation he said something he shouldn’t have.

Later when Dory is swimming through a tank full of Blue Tang’s searching for her parents, Marlin makes a joke that she should just pick two. This was an unkind joke. Thankfully Nemo made it clear that this was neither appropriate or funny.

The Mentally Ill And Disabled Need To Support Each Other

Here’s a rundown on some of the main characters of the movie:


  • Marlin – most likely has PTSD after watching his wife and unborn offspring eaten by a vicious predator.

  • Nemo – was born with a disability, that is referred to as a ‘gimpy fin’.

  • Hank – an amputee, turning him from an octopus to a septopus.

  • Destiny – has vision problems causing her to constantly swim into walls.

  • Bailey – was wounded and temporarily lost the ability for echolocation, which turned out to be psychosomatic.

  • Becky and Gerold – I don’t really know what is wrong with either of them, but they both clearly have some issues. However they both played small, but integral parts in the rescue mission.

In spite of all of their challenges they worked together and fulfilled their quest. They did not compare who had it worse. They focused on what each could do. They offered their personal best to help out their friends.

In Summation


Obviously this is a movie, and real life is never as simple as it seems in a movie. But I feel there are some solid life lessons for anyone that is ill, whether physically, mentally, or both, as well as our family and friends.

Ultimately we all need to just do our best and to offer support to anyone that needs it.




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