This article was written by the psychiatrists of Broadcast Thought—Dr. Vasilis K. Pozios and Dr. Praveen R. Kambam. Spoilers for The Hunger Games movies follow.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1 opens with a very telling scene. Katniss Everdeen is on the verge of tears and hiding in the bowels of District 13 reciting the most basic facts of her existence: Her name, her age, the fact that she was twice thrown into the Hunger Games arena to fight for her life. It’s a reminder that for all of her resilience and heroism, Katniss is still just a teenage girl who has been in kill-or-be-killed situations far too often.
Psychological trauma is pervasive for Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence).
She is haunted by the sheer brutality and life-threatening nature of the Games. In The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, she grapples with processing the emotional scars of her first Games and returning home to her loved ones. Then, in Mockingjay—Part 1, she struggles with her identity as she endures the psychological trauma of her second time in the arena and the knowledge that her friend Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) has been captured by the Capitol that put them in the Games in the first place.
So, Does Katniss Meet the Criteria to Be Diagnosed with PTSD?
Although it’s become fashionable to use psychiatric terms such as “PTSD” in a colloquial sort of way, post-traumatic stress disorder is actually a strictly defined mental disorder that can be severely debilitating. There are five groups of criteria that must be met in order for the diagnosis of PTSD to be made. So, does Katniss meet those criteria? Is President Coin’s (Juliane Moore) analysis in Mockingjay right— did the Games destroy her? Let’s examine her symptoms.
PTSD Criteria 1: Trauma To be diagnosed with PTSD, one must of course be exposed to a traumatic event.
Even those who flunked Psych 101 know Katniss has been traumatized. But would the specific traumatic things she’s experienced give someone PTSD? Clinically speaking, traumatic events are defined as those involving the direct experiencing or witnessing of actual death, threatened death, or serious injury. By this definition, Katniss experiences multiple traumatic events—both in the arena and out of it—throughout The Hunger Games films. In fact, by our count, Katniss experiences over two dozen traumatic events throughout The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay—Part 1.
The Hunger Games Masterfully Explores Trauma
“I don’t know how to say it exactly. Only…I want to die as myself. Does that make any sense?” he asks.
I shake my head. How could he die as anyone but himself? “I don’t want them to change me in there. Turn me into some kind of monster that I’m not.” I bite my lip, feeling inferior. While I’ve been ruminating on the availability of trees, Peeta has been struggling with how to maintain his identity. His purity of self.
“Do you mean you won’t kill anyone?” I ask. “No, when the time comes, I’m sure I’ll kill just like everybody else. I can’t go down without a fight. Only I keep wishing I could think of a way to…to show the Capitol they don’t own me. That I’m more than just a piece in their Games,” says Peeta.
“But you’re not,” I say. “None of us are. That’s how the Games work.” “Okay, but within that framework, there’s still you, there’s still me,” he insists. “Don’t you see?” “A little. Only… no offense, but who cares, Peeta?” I say.
“I do. I mean, what else am I allowed to care about at this point?” he asks angrily. He’s locked those blue eyes on mine now, demanding an answer.
I take a step back. “Care about what Haymitch said. About staying alive.” Peeta smiles at me, sad and mocking. “Okay. Thanks for the tip, sweetheart.” It’s like a slap in the face. His use of Haymitch’s patronizing endearment. “Look, if you want to spend the last hours of your life planning some noble death in the arena, that’s your choice. I want to spend mine in District Twelve.”