What psychological factors could be affecting Holden?
Erica Park Catherine Myung Chung Han Lin Allen Qin Nicolette Pappas Sally Moon

You are responsible for adding the possible psychological reasons for Holden’s madman days around Christmas. Find out about the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, the five stages of grieving and loss, the impact of death on a family, and any other reason you think Holden might be failing out of school and wandering New York City. You can give Holden your diagnosis and find out how doctors would treat him today. Would Holden be on medication?

Mental Illnesses

Throughout Catcher in the Rye, Holden's actions and behavior match that of psychological disorders. Many of the symptoms of these disorders overlap, however, and if one is diagnosed, it is highly probable that Holden is suffering from another disorder similar to that one. For example, many patients who are diagnosed with PTSD normally have to get treated for depression also.
Most mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, depression, or PTSD is usually the body's response to stress or trauma. For Holden's diagnoses we have found instances in Holden's behavior that have the possibility of a mental disease and connected them with the symptoms of each disease.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is normally associated with hyper-anxiety that tends to occur after a shocking, traumatic experience. There are two instances in which Holden may have developed PTSD from, which are 1. the death of his beloved younger brother Allie, and 2. Holden's witnessing of a tragic suicide. Holden also does not do well in school, and his relationship with his parents is strained because of it. He may feel anxiety from this as well.


PTSD symptoms are divided into three categories:

1. Reliving the Past

  • The whole novel can be considered one whole flashback. Holden is constantly thinking about past occurrences, and many of his memories include Allie. On page 38 Holden describes Allie's characteristics, emphasizing how intelligent, nice, and sweet-tempered he was, and it is evident in the way Holden talks about Allie that he was extremely close with his redhead brother. Holden usually criticizes and notices the faults in people; with Allie, there were only compliments.
  • Also with Allie--Holden seems to cling to Allie as a means of self-support--even if Allie had died years ago, Holden uses Allie's memory to calm himself. For example, during Holden's multiple-block walk in the city, he felt that he would somehow disappear every time he was in between blocks and prayed to Allie to keep him from disappearing.

2. Detachment
Just as the man is walking towards the sea, away from civilization, Holden detaches himself from others.
Just as the man is walking towards the sea, away from civilization, Holden detaches himself from others.

  • Even in a school filled with people, Holden refuses to make friends and experiences a total lack of interest in his studies. This is evident in his everyday criticism of roommate Stradlater and pimple-faced Ackley and of course, many more unmentioned. Holden feels that schoolwork is unnecessary and usually does not even make an effort to keep from failing. For example, in his P.S. letter to Mr. Spencer, his history teacher, he states, "It is all right with me if you flunk me though as I am flunking everything else except English anyway. Respectfully yours, Holden Caulfield."
  • Although Holden himself does not mention it, he believes he has no future. In fact, he does not want a future; Holden does not want to grow up. He shows this detachment by failing every school he gets sent to, getting himself drunk although he is still underage, and rebelling against his teachers' and parents' wishes for Holden to lead a decent adult life. This is clearly addressed by Mr. Antolini--"The mark of an immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of a mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one." Of course, Holden still takes this quote for granted.

3. Agitation

  • Holden is always stressed out, agitated, and always irritated about someone or something. Even on his date with Sally Hayes, instead of enjoying the Lunts, Holden ended up remarking now ridiculous the storyline was, or how phony the characters acted. He can never appreciate what he is offered. Everything about the city is phony, doesn't make sense, or doesn't appeal to Holden's tastes. There really isn't an instance in which Holden seems to truly be happy.


Holden needs to see a psychiatrist to treat PTSD. Therapy would help him to recall the event but not dwell or brood on it, but to express any feelings relating to that event (in this case, the suicide or Allie's death) and let everything out in order to overcome that particular experience. To treat the "detachment" aspect of PTSD, Holden may have to be exposed to whatever he feels detached from constantly in order to gradually stop avoiding it.
Anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs may help with Holden's increased agitation.


Depression is a mental illness in which one simply cannot find the joy in life, where he or she is constantly feeling in a low mood. Depression in adolescence can occur in teenagers as a response to a sudden traumatic experience, a difficult household situation, the stress involved in maturing into adults and the responsibility that often comes with it, or sometimes the influence of sex hormones. Depression can also be caused by situations at school--failure in classes, social nonacceptance, etc.
Holden fits into a "depression situation" perfectly. He had experienced the trauma of losing a close relative, his younger brother Allie, and his older brother, DB, seems to have abandoned his two remaining siblings in order to escape the awkward family situation at home that usually comes with death. Holden also has trouble obeying his parents, and perpetually feels out of place in his family as he co
This man is depressed like Holden might be.
This man is depressed like Holden might be.
mpares himself with their intelligence.
Although his parents never lose hope for Holden in academics, Holden has never failed to fail out of every school he was sent to. In those schools, Holden constantly critiques them, emphasizing their faults. For example, for Ackley, the criticism would be his numerous pimples and dirty teeth, for Stradlater it would be his "phoniness", and the rest of the schools were "phony bastards" also. However, the criticism is just a facade for Holden--he pretends to be pompous to hide his social nonacceptance. Holden, at school, is and had always been a loner--and that contributes greatly to his depressed state.
Sex hormones--Holden is like any other adolescent and feels like any other guy would about girls. However, he does not seem to realize that he is immature in this aspect, but pretends to be mature to find some company in his lonely, depressed state of mind. For example, after he invites a prostitute, Sunny, up to his room he admits that he feels nervous that he is a virgin. Before he sees her he plans on getting some "practice" with her, but when she arrives he backs out--his immaturity speaking--and instead asks for her to "just stay and talk".
The Catcher in the Rye centers around the central idea of not wanting to grow up. Holden is the depressed adolescent that seldom is happy, broods on every fault he finds in people, and matures with the conviction that he does not actually want to mature and grow up, but stay a child forever. He is depressed because he realizes there is nothing to keep him from growing up (glass case).


The symptoms of depression are numerous, so we're only going to mention the ones that Holden may be suffering from. They are:
  • Acting-out behavior (His messed up essay is a perfect example of defiance)
  • Loss of appetite (...Well...Holden was never much of an eater)
  • Depressed or irritable mood (Obviously)
  • Excessively irresponsible behavior pattern (Holden is not the most responsible, as shown in school performance and his constant attraction to underage drinking)
  • Failing relations with family and friends (The relationship between Holden and his parents is not the best)
  • Faltering school performance (Obviously)
  • Fatigue (Because he never eats, he feels close to collapsing toward the end of the book several times)
  • Feelings of worthlessness, sadness, or self-hatred (Holden feels that he does not live up to his family's reputation)
  • Persistent difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep (He doesn't sleep at night--instead he stays up inviting prostitutes to his room or spying on other people)
  • Reduced pleasure in daily activities (Holden never had pleasure in any activity)
  • Temper (agitation at every little thing)
  • Thoughts about suicide or obsessive fears or worries about death (He thinks about jumping off a building at one point; also toward the end of the book he actually prays to Allie to "not let him disappear")


Antidepressants prescribed by a psychiatrist, as well as regular psychological evaluations would treat Holden's depression. If depression continues, Holden may need to be exposed to electroconvulsive therapy, or "shock therapy" as a last resort.

The Five Stages of Grieving

Although Holden seems to talk about Allie's death very calmly, there is an underlying atmosphere of grief about him. Everyone who has lost a loved one experiences the 5 stages of grieving--and Holden is no exception.
Holden appears to be grieving about the the loss of his childhood--that he has matured past that age into where is now.

Numero Uno: Denial and Isolation
We've repeated this many times already: Holden is a lonely, introverted individual. He wanders around New York City, which is and was one of the most populated places in America and probably passes thousands of people in the streets during his three-day experience--but he is still isolated. Holden wants to talk to people, but does not understand the proper way to converse with people or respect them. He also finds himself in constant criticism of the actions of other people although his actions, to others, come through as annoying and cocky. In this way he keeps himself completely isolated from everyone, even Phoebe. When Phoebe expressed her desire to run away with Holden he tells her immediately to "shut up" and in this way, isolates himself from the one person he loves most.

Denial--the whole point J.D. Salinger wrote The Catcher in the Rye was to express denial. Holden denies that he is maturing into an adult, and wishes to stay a child forever.

Numero Dos: Anger
After Allie died, the first thing Holden did was punch out all the windows in his garage with his bare fist. He was an angry boy. He also lets out his emotions by attacking Stradlater when Stradlater refused to use Holden's essay about Allie's mitt. Holden felt Stradlater was dissing Allie, and acted blinded by anger.
This crappy animation shows Holden's five stages of grief.

Numero Tres: Bargaining
Most grievers in this stage usually bargain with God. For example, "If I don't curse for the rest of the day, will you bring my mother back?" --or something like that. But Holden is not religious at all. However, affected by his many mental illnesses, Holden bargains directly with Allie and desperately prays to keep him from disappearing. Disappearing could also represent a belief of Holden that when he grows into adulthood, his memory and existence will be gone, as there is no longer the need to pay attention the child that Holden once was.

Numero Cuatro: Depression
This is obvious. Look at our awesome "Depression" section.

Numero Cinco: Acceptance
Holden begins to feel the weight of adulthood on his shoulders as he gradually matures from childhood. Holden did not only grieve for the death of Allie, but also the death of his childhood innocence. However, he begins to understand reality toward the end of the book--the reality that he cannot escape the reality of growing up. This is evident in his "I wanna be the Catcher in the Rye" speech. Instead of saying, "I want to be one of the kids still running around stupidly in the fields", Holden instead accepts that he has long grown out of this particular stage by stating that he wants to the the Catcher--or in other words, the Protector of childhood. For the most part though, Holden still grieves the loss of his brother and he still wishes he could be a child forever.

Non-mental Illness Related Causes

Sleep Deprivation

Throughout the book's time span of three days, Holden gets very minimal sleep, which may be due to one of the possible afflictions stated previously (Sleep deprivation is a symptom of depression and PTSD). It is also due to over-stress or anxiety and uncontrollable emotions, so either sleep deprivation caused Holden's mental illnesses or the mental illnesses caused sleep deprivation--it could go either way. Holden is so sleep deprived, there is an instance in which he feels like he is about to faint walking on the streets of New York. This can also be attributed to fatigue from undernourishment.

Sleep deprivation can impair the ability to handle stress and emotions. Since one of the causes of the other mental illnesses is over-stress and anxiety, sleep deprivation just adds to Holden's mental impairment. Also, Holden's emotions have a tendency to go haywire throughout the book. For instance, After Phoebe gives him her Christmas dough to use, Holden breaks down sobbing uncontrollably. Another instance is when Holden, after hearing about Allie's death, punches out all of the windows in his garage out of anger, busting his knuckles.


The only, obvious way to treat sleep deprivation is to sleep. A doctor may prescribe sleeping pills for more severe insomnia.


Holden's journey around New York may be a way of trying to fill the gap in himself by interacting with others. An example of this is his conversation with Ernest Morrow's mom, who he meets on the subway. Holden lies extravagantly in order to be acknowledged by others. He would also talk to taxi drivers and tries to start conversations about pointless things like where the ducks go in the wintertime or invite them for a round of drinks, even though they don't know each other at all. Holden finds himself constantly trying to escape his feeling of loneliness by calling friends from his childhood or teachers he used to know . Eventually, Holden would start calling people he barely knew just so he can have someone to talk to. For example, he called up Faith Cavendish and attempted to set up a date with her, even though they never met in person before.

Reliving the Past

Holden's reason for his behavior in New York may also be due to a fear of growing up and experiencing immense nostalgia for the past. There are many instances scattered throughout the book that shows how Holden missed his innocent, care-free childhood.
As he is talking with Phoebe in the issue of what Holden wants to do with his life, he does not say, "doctor", or "businessman" as many his age would say, but a "catcher in the rye". Holden wanted to protect the innocence of the children playing in the rye by preventing them from falling off a cliff--otherwise known as adulthood.
When he visited the museum, Holden expressed these feelings when he talked about the glass case - how the contents behind the glass never change, and how he wanted Phoebe to be inside the glass case. By mentioning how he wants Phoebe to stay a child, he hints at his own desire to go back to his childhood. Holden also gets drunk regularly, which shows how he wanted to escape the troubles of his stress-filled present day reality. This obsession with the past is also shown by how Holden constantly thinks about where the ducks go. Although deep inside he knows the answer, Holden wants to relive the experience of having an innocent child's curiosity.

  1. ^ https://health.google.com/health/ref/Post-traumatic+stress+disorder
  2. ^ http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001518.htm
  3. ^ http://www.memorialhospital.org/library/general/stress-THE-3.html
  4. ^ http://www.sleep-deprivation.com/articles/effects-of-sleep-deprivation/index.php