As a healthcare venture capitalist, I see a lot of, shall we say, interesting ideas for how to treat patients. But today I really hit the jackpot in the “you’ve got to be kidding me” department. Unfortunately I didn’t see this in person, but on-line in a story that ran in the “Bad Ideas” (who knew?) portion of the Time Magazine Internet newsfeed entitled, “New Line of German Stuffed Animals with Mental Issues“. So many things wrong with that sentence I hardly know where to begin. It’s a short article so I am going to include it in its entirety below:
For your gift giving consideration: Dub the severely depressed turtle? German toymaker Paraplush has designed a controversial new line of toys with an assortment of psychiatric disorders. The company advertises stuffed animals who suffer from a range of mental illnesses (bipolar disorder, depression, multiple personality disorder) and even come packaged with a personalized medical history and treatment plan. “‘Patients’ from the Paraplush toy company include Dub the turtle with severe depression, Sly the snake who suffers from terrifying hallucinations, Dolly the sheep with a multiple personality disorder and a crocodile with an irrational fear of water,” writes Orange UK. Each mentally ill Paraplush toy, designed by Martin Kittsteiner, retails for $38.
Well that’s one heck of a gift idea. What to get for the man who has everything, including bipolar disorder!
One can only guess that the idea behind this inspiration is to give people with serious mental illness a cuddly creature to which they can…relate. This isn’t an entirely new concept. There is a line of dolls recently launched that “have emotions” which are used to help teach children about how to express their feelings. Called Kimochis, these dolls are targeted to help children understand how to express sadness, anger, etc. OK, I get that. Makes sense. Cute concept.
But Paraplush is taking this idea to a whole new level. It’s one thing to have a cute stuffed doll for kids called “Huggtopuss” that uses a cute big-eyed octopus to teach kids about being overly aggressive in the hugging department. It’s quite another to have a bug-eyed, pillow-hugging crocodile named Kroko who, well, let me allow the website to speak for itself:
The patient’s (aka Kroko) hypersensitive hallucinatory perception is a symptom of a paranoid psychosis. The signs are a mental block and a Gestaltzerfall (disintegration of structure) of the habitual field of experience. The consequence is a compensational reactivation of archaic reaction patterns.
Holy crap, are these people serious?
I keep asking myself, “who is the target audience for these wonders of the psychiatric world?” Is there a large demand from paranoid schizophrenics to cuddle up to a crocodile or will this, in and of itself, induce the hallucinatory response they are seeking to avoid? I gotta believe that the latter is a serious clinical risk. Patients: don’t try this at home.
Don’t get me wrong. I do not find amusement in the cause of treating people with serious mental illness. I, myself, spent a large portion of my career working for a company focused specifically on taking care of people with precisely these very debilitating problems. I can assure you that I don’t remember a single instance from those nine years where one of our patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder articulated a deep-seated need for a blue hippopotamus to help them make sense of it all. Here is the website description for Lilo, the blue hippo:
The patient has been trying to solve a wooden jigsaw puzzle for the past few months without success. He is so absorbed in this repetitive activity that he is unaware of his surroundings most of the time. Ever since his disorder has begun, the patient hasn’t talked to anyone. A connection between the inability to speak and the compulsive urge to solve jigsaw puzzles seems likely.
I can only imagine that the target patient for this product would become obsessed with figuring out what in the hell this stuffed animal was doing in their house and why they made it blue (is this some subtle suggestion that he is also depressed?). Furthermore, how did said hippo get a jigsaw puzzle, much less pick up the pieces in its not very dexterous hooves? I guess the idea is to get the patient to forget what they were obsessing about in the first place. Mission accomplished.
What is especially bizarre is that on the website each description of the various stuffed wonders ends with the admonition, “The patient needs your help!” Dude, that doesn’t even begin to explain the situation.
Among the toys I have yet to mention are:
- Dolly, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, who has multiple personality disorder. Do you think they picked the name Dolly and a sheep because of that other Dolly–the sheep that once led the nightly news due to having been cloned?
- Dub, a turtle who has serious depression issues. Dub is, ironically, not blue, which I think is a missed merchandizing opportunity;
- Sly, a rainbow striped snake suffering from hallucinations due to (and I quote), “inner conflict,” which is “a sign of an ambivalent relationships towards its own body.” I am guessing that if one suffers from life-altering hallucinations, having a rainbow-striped snake in your bed cannot be the path to serenity.
Worse yet, the area of the website that promotes these stuffed creations is called “The Asylum.” Now that’s patient empathy in action. The patient needs your help! Ain’t that the truth.
Weirdly enough, the same website also has a link to something called “The Whisky Store” where they sell scotch whisky and bourbon. Perhaps this is viewed as the antidote to receipt of one of these little fuzzy wonders. It also leads me to believe that ParaPlush’s next line of toys will be targeted at the substance-abusing market. We can all look forward to Wobbly, the Wombat, Slurry the Skunk and Stoner, the twinkie-eating Sloth (comes with his own grass). The patient needs your help! Indeed.
According to the product’s inventor, Martin Kittsteiner, “It started as a bit of a joke with my girlfriend who has lots of soft toys and then we thought there could be something in the idea.” Okay, listen closely Martin: Not!
Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this will be THE toy for this coming Christmas season—a virtual Cabbage Patch Doll for the psychiatric set. I happened to catch a story on the NBC Nightly News a few weeks back where the very serious Brian Williams reported that 25% of adult men travel with a stuffed animal because they find it comforting. If Brian Williams says it’s true, there might just be something to this.