The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 boasted a $123 million opening weekend, topping all other 2014 movies. This great accomplishment is little surprise considering the 2013 release of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was also the highest grossing film in North America last year.
Personally, I am a huge fan of the books and I enjoy the movies as well. They portray a strong female lead named Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) fronting a massive revolution aimed at stopping what is known as “The Hunger Games.” Even if you are not a “tribute” (a term us fans are called), you are probably aware of what these “games” entail - a fight to the death that only one person survives.
Despite the action, romance and outstandingly creative costume designs that spark the interest of many young adults and teens, there is a very dark side to this series. One male and one female are chosen at random to be thrown into the arena and trained to kill or be killed all before their 18th birthday … sounds pretty terrifying.
Though the books do a better job than the movies at exploring the effects of this type of fear, violence and oppression, the series does display some of the emotional and mental health breakage that trauma causes. In the first book and movie you have Haymitch, advisor to Katniss and Peeta, a previous winner of the games, and a barely functional alcoholic, turning to substance abuse to numb the emotional scars. As the series progresses and the characters evolve, we start to see our strong, courageous leader, Katniss, show signs of PTSD and declining emotional and mental health. She wakes up screaming in terror from nightmares and flashbacks, is constantly on alert, and becomes flooded with grief after seeing all the destruction and devastation unfolding around her. She is, in many ways, the poster girl for strong women and men who have been through trauma and struggle with the lasting impact.
According to the National Center for PTSD, approximately 10% of women in the U.S. will develop post-traumatic stress disorder at some point in their life. War, chronic health problems, stressful life changes and fear of injury or death are common triggers for PTSD. Anxiety disorders also increase the risk of substance abuse and addiction, and many have co-occurring depression that can complicate recovery.
Developing post-traumatic stress disorder is not a sign that you are weaker than anyone else. PTSD provokes real changes in the brain’s processing. Our fight-or-flight defenses kick in to overdrive, as we relentlessly experience the trauma over and over, even in times of peace. With the right therapeutic intervention, these brain changes can be reversed and the traumas have less significance.
Katniss is a survivor of trauma, and underneath the bloody games, explosive revolution, futuristic backdrop and of course your essential love triangle, there is a much unspoken battle unfolding - that of painful trauma and emotional breakage.