How Did Elmo Become the Internet’s Therapist?


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Hi, my name is Andi and Elmo is my therapist. The furry red monster is also a therapist to T-Pain, Chance The Rapper, Rainn Wilson, and Dr. Phil.

If you’re confused, let us explain: Elmo, the beloved Sesame Street character, recently went viral after he tweeted, “Elmo is just checking in! How is everybody doing?”

Well, Elmo, apparently not so great. People poured their hearts out and the general vibe is that morale is low. One user responded, “The world is burning around us, Elmo.” while another replied, “In the grand scheme of the universe, our existence is merely a blink, devoid of inherent meaning or purpose. We are fleeting shadows in an indifferent cosmos.” Heavy.

Elmo previously disclosed he doesn’t know how to read yet, so I’d like to think his innocence was spared. But I couldn’t help but wonder: why did his seemingly innocuous check in cause the internet to crumble? Why was it so comforting to unload on sweet Elmo?

(POPSUGAR reached out to Elmo for a statement, but we didn’t hear back as of press time.)

Why Did the Internet Unload on Elmo?

Elmo likely had no idea what he was in for when he asked a seemingly innocent question, but according to X’s metrics, more than 196 million people saw the tweet, and over 16,000 users directly tweeted back. Why? “Nostalgic figures like Elmo from Sesame Street often represent innocence, simplicity, and a carefree time in one’s life,” says Deborah Gilman, PhD, a licensed psychologist who specializes in adults and families impacted by trauma. “Sharing with Elmo can feel comforting because it taps into a sense of familiarity and safety associated with childhood memories, and Elmo embodies a non-judgmental, friendly persona.”

The character’s association with positive childhood experiences also creates a safe, emotionally secure space, making it easier to share personal thoughts and concerns, Dr. Gilman says. “Elmo’s innocence and genuine curiosity make him a symbolic representation of comfort, creating a lighthearted way for people to express their feelings,” she explains.

For example, someone replied, “Anyone else slowly getting anxiety thinking about this year’s election?” It’s a joke, but it’s also real.

And while the answers to Elmo could tip over into the “dark humor” side of the spectrum, genuinely responding to Elmo’s question was low-key therapeutic. Sharing an honest answer to the generally ignored “how are you doing?” question promotes authentic communication, and can build trust, enhance mental health awareness, and be an outlet of emotional release, Dr. Gilman says. “Elmo’s emergence as the internet’s therapist is a cultural phenomenon rooted in humor, and the desire for a non-threatening, relatable figure to symbolize the role of a supportive listener.”

President Biden even chimed in, adding, “Our friend Elmo is right: We have to be there for each other, offer our help to a neighbor in need, and above all else, ask for help when we need it.”

And it’s true, because after a day of the world trauma dumping on poor Elmo (Dunkin’, Universal Pictures, and RITZ Crackers even had grievances to share), Sesame Street referred the people to legitimate mental health resources, noting, #EmotionalWellBeing.

The cutie Muppet also acknowledged he’s so glad he asked how everyone was doing because it’s so important to check in on your friends. Elmo said he’ll give another pulse check soon, but in the meantime, take care of yourself. Seriously. Ask for help, minimize stress, practice self-care, and check-in with a mental health professional when needed.

Image Source: Getty / Craig Barritt; Photo illustration by Keila Gonzalez

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