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Diagnosing the Psychological Issues of the 'Hunger Games: Catching Fire' Tributes

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Nov 20, 2013 | 4:51pm EST

Hunger Games Catching FireLionsgate

As even the most casual fan know, the plot of The Hunger Games centers on an annual event in which the government of Panem draft two volunteers from each district to compete in an annual tournament in which they are forced to fight the other competitors until only one victor is left alive, while the nation watches it and cheers for their favorite contestants. Understandably, the tournament has been known to have many negative effects on the competitors, and those who manage to reach the end of the Games are left with an incredible amount of trauma to work through. So, what does the government do to these terrified, traumatized victors at the beginning of Catching Fire? Well, they force them back into an arena, to face even more painful, horrifying and scarring elements than were present in their first go around.

In honor of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire arriving in theaters this Friday, we decided to play psychiatrist and attempt to analyse the Quarter Quell tributes in order to better understand the issues they are facing as they arrive to compete in the Hunger Games one more time. 

NOTE: We are not actual psychologists, and this should not be taken as a formal diagnosis. Also, minor spoilers for Catching Fire are present.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
The most common after-effect that the tributes seem to be dealing with from their time in the arena is PTSD. According to the DSM V, the criteria for PTSD include experiencing or witnessing a past trauma that results in recurring, involuntary memories, nightmares, flashbacks and distress as a result of the event itself or reminder of the event. Katniss suffers from nightmares as a result of her time in the arena, and they primarily affect her when she is on the train on her tour of the Districts with Peeta. People who suffer from PTSD can also experience trouble sleeping, which both Katniss and Peeta deal with, exhibit self-destructive or reckless behavior or can be aggressive and irritable. Both tributes also have trouble controlling themselves and often react aggressively to situations that upset them. Another symptom of PTSD is the diminished interest in activities that were once enjoyable, which Katniss exhibits when she feels bored by her new life in District 12, and a persistent feeling of isolation, which both Katniss and Peeta feel, as they and Haymitch are the only people in the district who know what it’s like to be a victor of the Hunger Games.   

Branching outside of District 12, many of these PTSD symptoms can be found in the other tributes as well. Johanna Mason often behaves recklessly, such as when she removes all of her clothes in the elevator in an attempt to startle Katniss, and she behaves aggressively and violently towards the other tributes, even before they enter the arena. Johanna also exhibits another symptom of PTSD: the diminished ability to feel positive emotions. After the trauma of her games, President Snow killed all of Johanna’s family, and after these two traumas, she seems to be unable to see things positively, or even display any emotions besides rage or terror. Other characters who exhibit aggressive or angry behavior are Enobaria, who had her teeth sharpened into points in order to live up to her reputation as a bloodthirsty killer, and Brutus, who is excited to revisit the violence and brutality of the Hunger Games.

Attachment Issues
Katniss' father died when she and Prim were young, and her mother fell into a depression as a result that left Katniss in charge of providing for the family. As a result of her father's death and her mother abandoning her parental duties due to her depression, Katniss has spent most of her life unable to connect with others. Even though she and Gale are considered good friends, she still finds it hard to form a proper relationship with him, and has stated that Prim is the only person that she "is sure" she loves. Her attachment issues have also manifested in her relationship with Peeta, who is the first person she forms a proper bond with, and the only way that she can recover from her nightmares is if he shares her bed, because otherwise she feels alone.

Substance Abuse/Addiction
As a way of dealing with their time in the arena and the trauma that resulted, several characters developed problems with substance abuse, most notably, Haymitch Abernathy, who is an alcoholic. Although he doesn't compete in the Quarter Quell, as Peeta volunteers to take his place, Haymitch is still a vital part of the Games for Katniss and Peeta. He began drinking to forget about his time in the arena, and eventually became dependent on it in rode rot get through the day. Although he is a functional alcoholic, and can perform his duties as mentor despite his drinking, he still exhibits withdrawal symptoms when liquor is no longer available in District 12.

Chaff, a tribute from District 11, is a friend of Haymitch's and also has a drinking problem. In addition, there are two unnamed tributes from District 5 known only as the Morphlings, who have developed and addition to morphling, Panem's equivalent of the opiate morphine, as a way of dealing with life after the Hunger Games. As part of their addiction, their skin has begun to yellow and sag.

Loss of Verbal Communication
It’s not a disorder in and of itself, but a loss of verbal communication is a common symptom amongst people who have experienced a trauma. Although it’s most commonly associated with traumatic brain injuries, it can also appear as a lesser known symptom of PTSD. Wiress suffers from such symptoms, and finds herself unable to communicate verbally, instead relying on simple phrases and songs to get her point across. When she does manage to get sentences across, she often trails off towards the end of them, requiring her friend Beetee to finish what she was trying to say or to translate he speech to the other tributes. Wiress is the first tribute to figure out that the arena is a clock, but because she cannot express this beyond repeating the phrase "tick tock," it takes some time before the others know what she means. Mags also has trouble communicating verbally, and her speech is often an indistinct mumble that Katniss has a difficult time understanding. It's likely that both of their inability to speak is a result of their time spent in the arena, and the trauma their experiences caused.

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