The American Psychiatric Association Says Disney Adults Don’t Have to Worry About This Problem Anymore

magic kingdom via monorail
Credit: Becky Burkett

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) recently released findings from a study related to an often-criticized sector of Disney fans, and the results may come as a surprise to many.

mickey balloons at disney park

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Whether you’ve loved Disney for decades or you’re brand-new to the Disney kingdom of fandom, you likely know that inside the world of Disney fans, there are varying levels of love for the Mouse. Some Disney fans enjoy Walt’s classic films and have visited Disney World or Disneyland once or twice. Some step it up a notch and refuse to make travel plans of any kind unless those plans involve a visit to the Central Florida parks. Other fans are all-in for Disney, and every square foot of their homes is adorned with decor, linens, knick-knacks, and wall art inspired by Disney films, the parks, or Mickey Mouse himself.

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Though the concept of Disney fandom has been in existence since before Walt released his first feature-length animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, in 1937 and the opening of Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California, in 1955, the number of fans around the world has grown exponentially over the years as additional Disney theme park resorts have been constructed in Japan, China, and France. Each time The Walt Disney Company builds a new park–or initiates an expansion at a current park–the number of Disney fans around the world increases. The same is true when Disney releases a new film at the box office as a new wave of fans is born.

It’s not just the number of worldwide Disney fans that keeps growing, but also the devotion and dedication of those fans as well. Thanks to the interconnecting powers of the world wide web, Disney fans from opposite ends of the earth can converse, chat, and communicate in a myriad of ways with each other. And because news and information now travel at near lightspeed, those who love all things Disney are quickly in the know about upcoming theatrical releases, goings-on inside The Walt Disney Company, plans for new theme parks, and more. For the diehard fan, there’s simply nothing more magical than a lifestyle of celebrating a love for Disney.

disney adult on ride

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Recently, however, many of those diehard fans have come under scrutiny and heavy criticism–especially those who are of adult age and appear to some as obsessed with the Disney Company, Disney films, Disney merch, and Disney parks, among other things. These “Disney Adults” are often the objects of ridicule across social media platforms as they are perceived by some as being opposed to growing up.

The website KnowYourMeme.com describes the term, which was coined in the late 2010s, as follows:

“‘Disney Adult’ is a slang term used disparagingly against adults who, whether they have kids or not, are overly obsessed with Disney and its products to the point where they treat it less like a company and more like a lifestyle and identity. While some proudly identify as Disney Adults, the term is primarily used as a criticism or insult online toward those who refuse to grow up.”

cinderella castle magic kingdom disney world resort

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In mid-2019, an angry mother’s rant, draped in expletives, went viral. The woman was visiting Disney World with her son and became enraged while waiting in line behind dozens of Guests at a snack cart in the park. She took issue with people who visit the parks without children, saying that the Central Florida Disney Parks are for families, not “childless millennials,” and called for such Guests to be banned altogether. Though her rant didn’t include the exact term “Disney Adults,” it’s clear that Disney Adults with no children would likely fall on her list of Guests who shouldn’t be allowed through the gates at Disney World. (Then again, the angry mom would qualify as a Disney Adult as well.)

Recently, growing criticism of Disney Adults has branched off in multiple directions. In June 2022, a Religious Studies professor at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania also went viral online for likening Disney fandom to a cult or religion. Eichler-Levine acknowledged that it seems odd that a professor of Religious Studies would delve into Disney fandom as though it were a religion, but she said she’s not the first to connect the proverbial dots between the two.

Crowds at D23 Expo in California 2022

Thousands of fans gather in Anaheim, California, for the 2022 D23 Expo/Credit: Becky Burkett

But Disney fandom, the potential for Mouse worship, and Disney Adults–and what all of it might mean about those involved–recently came under an even more heightened form of criticism and analysis as they were reportedly the focal points of a study conducted by the American Psychiatric Association.

According to a report online, the practice of “Disney Adulting” has long been associated with mental illness, specifically psychopathy, which is defined as “a condition characterized by the absence of empathy and the blunting of other affective states” that can also include “callousness, detachment, and a lack of empathy” that make it possible for affected individuals “to be highly manipulative.” The report states that until 2022, Disney Adulting was considered a form of psychopathy, as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, a reference book on mental health and brain-related conditions and disorders.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) is responsible for writing and publishing the DSM, and according to the aforementioned report, the APA finally determined that being a Disney Adult–a practice perceived by some as a form of extremism within the magical realm of Disney fandom–no longer means that the individual is a psychopath.

Psychiatry.org - DSM

Credit: American Psychiatry Association

“In a long-overdue move to help modernize clinical practices, the American Psychiatric Association announced plans to update their Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition to stop classifying adult Disney fandom as a form of psychopathy,” the report reads in part.

Though the report sounds like good news on the surface, it continues, as if stoking the embers that remain from years of adult Disney fans being relentlessly ridiculed for wearing mouse ears and frequenting the parks as adults (especially without children), by quoting the director of the APA:

“’For decades, [the DSM] guidelines have resulted in grown Americans being branded as deviants and outcasts merely for loving Disney enough to own multiple T-shirts featuring Mickey, Goofy, or Donald Duck,’ said APA Director Jennifer F. Kelly, noting that while an individual must have neurodivergent qualities to not feel a deep feeling of shame while belting out the chorus of ‘Let It Go’ from Disney’s Frozen, this alone was not a reason to stigmatize those with Adult-Onset Disney Fanaticism.”

Such a claim by the APA director has the power to clear the room of any Disney Adults, as the majority of them feel no shame whatsoever for belting out “Let it Go” or, more recently, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” and “Surface Pressure” from Walt Disney Animation’s Encanto.

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Credit: Walt Disney Animation

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The post goes on to suggest that “a mentally healthy adult should experience a pervasive sense of self-loathing after revealing they spent their vacation at Disney World despite not having children of their own.” Yep, they went there with the “childless millennials” theme. The APA director is reportedly optimistic that the proposed change in the DSM Manual will “usher in an era of tolerance among friends and coworkers for those suffering from this severe, debilitating condition,” referring to the previously mentioned Adult-Onset Disney Fanaticism.

Clearly, the “report” is satirical in nature, as it purports that many Disney fans are mentally ill and should loathe themselves simply because they love Disney and count themselves among the millions of fans around the globe, and such statements are not only untrue, but they serve to show just how ridiculous it is to make blanket assumptions about them. Isn’t it time yet for us to steer away from such hateful and harmful attitudes toward others?

We agree completely.

About Becky Burkett

Becky's from the Lone Star State and has been writing since she was 10 and encountered her first Disney Park when she was 11. It was love at first Main Street Electrical Parade. Joy is blank lined journals, 0.7 mm pens, and all things Walt, Woody and Buzz, PIXAR, Imagineering, Sleeping Beauty (make it blue!), Disney Parks history and EPCOT. At Disney World, you'll find her croonin' with the birdies at the Enchanted Tiki Room or hangin' with Woody and the gang at Toy Story Land. If you can dream, you really can do it!