This list covers life-saving films that got me through my most challenging times as well as continually empower me thanks to repeat viewings. They help me remember my inner strengths and to focus on the positives as I cope with symptoms such as loss of focus, hopelessness, thoughts of death, social withdrawal and mind forms of paralysis. These films empower my mental health and wellness! I believe they can do the same for you or someone you care about.
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
This Oscar winning film is based on the true story of Dr. John Nash (Russell Crowe) and his perseverance and resilience through years of mental illness. His will to continue to live and teach others despite his mental challenge is inspiring! Equally important is the unconditional love and support from his wife Alicia Nash (Jennifer Connelly). Together their story is a reminder of how important supportive relationships are during mental challenges and other difficult times.
The Artist (2011)
This is another Oscar winning film that is surprisingly entertaining and uplifting despite being a silent, black and white movie. It’s a story of actor George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) dealing with an unexpected career crisis and depression and it will remind you that there are always solutions even if you cannot see it in the present. It is also a reminder that love, support and friendship are available as long as you are open to receiving it.
Groundhog Day (1993)
This romantic comedy is brimming with life lessons and is a massive metaphor for the feeling of being caught in an endless loop like living with depression. The movie hero Phil Connors (Bill Murray) discovers and demonstrates multiple coping solutions after identifying the silver lining of his personal hell of living the same day over and over again. His journey will fill you with unlimited hope and laughter to keep moving forward no matter what.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
This third chapter in the Harry Potter film series was always my favourite and became even more meaningful when I discovered that its author, J.K. Rowling, suffered clinical depression while writing the first book. She also created the film’s dark characters, the Dementors, as a representation of what depression felt like to her. As she said in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, "It’s that cold absence of feeling – that really hollowed-out feeling. That’s what the Dementors are.". This movie also shares a powerful message that can be applied in real life, through the metaphor of a magic spell, for focusing on positive thoughts and memories instead of the darkness and despair.
Inside Out (2015)
I believe this Disney Pixar film is the greatest all-ages movie about depression! There is a moment that clearly illustrates my experience with depression when 11 year old Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) is introducing herself to her new classroom and is suddenly disconnected from all her emotions. This powerful scene demonstrates that depression isn’t a feeling of sadness but of being void of all feelings. This film is a fantastic tool to help create dialogue for those needing help both young and old.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
This Christmas classic is actually a prime example of the learning and benefits of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Dr. Stanton Peele wrote more on this in his informative article for Psychology Today. This highly recommended program for helping manage depression and anxiety is basically about training the mind to control and transform the ruminating of negative, distorted thoughts. This is clearly demonstrated by the angel Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers) when he helps George Bailey (James Stewart) refocus his thoughts from suicide and hopelessness to the positive effects and evidence he's had from all his friends and family. The scene where George is praying for help is also a powerful reminder to let go of trying to solve a problem by yourself and open up to external solutions.
Life of Pi (2012)
This Oscar winning movie is a visually stunning adventure with a young movie hero that inspires perseverance, resilience and indestructible optimism. You will see how 16 year old Pi (Suraj Sharma) copes with extreme adversity and how he survives being lost at sea with a Bengal tiger. His spiritual beliefs and willingness to surrender to a higher power is a powerful reminder for those dealing with depression and are seeking spiritual guidance in dark times.
Peaceful Warrior (2006)
This highly inspiring film is overflowing with life lessons shared by the enigmatic gas station attended named Socrates (Nick Nolte). He teaches methods and new perspectives to gymnast Dan Millman (Scott Mechlowicz) dreaming of being in the Olympics. These techniques are designed to rewire his thinking and focus in order to achieve his goal and to overcome unexpected depression. This is another great example of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) in action that can be applied to managing depression.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
This film about a wrongfully accused accountant named Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is an inspiring mirror for your inner strengths and effective methods in dealing with depression. It is Andy’s indestructible optimism, attitude and vision of the life and freedom he wanted that can be applied to coping with seemingly hopeless situations. His creative solutions and projects he instigates while imprisoned can motivate you on how to remain positive and productive during mental health challenges.
Despite this film being considered a box-office bomb I am compelled to share it because there is a powerful message that saved me during brief suicidal thoughts I experienced on the day of the film’s release. It is actually the message of the whole movie which is the importance of focusing on positive thoughts and imaginative ideas over the negative. In the film the young heroine, Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), reminds her dad of this old Indian parable: There are two wolves who are always fighting. One is darkness and despair. The other is light and hope. The question is: which wolf wins? Answer: The one you feed.
The day of this posting is actually the anniversary of the release date and day I saw Tomorrowland (May 22, 2015). I didn’t know this when I felt compelled to write this post and it sent shivers up my spine! I just see it as another magical synchronicity much like the many times a perfect movie came to help lift my spirits and motivate me forward. And so I hope this list of films comes at a perfect time for you or a loved one, a friend or a coworker.
Movies as an effective coping tool is also supported by Therese J. Borchard author of Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety. She says on her blog, “Watching the right movie has an antidepressant effect, as it relieves the brain of the obsessive, ruminating, self-defeating loop for two consecutive hours. The brain can readjust a little during those 120 minutes and is a bit kinder when the film is over.”
Films can entertain and, at the same time, be uplifting and provide invaluable new perspectives for dealing with depression or other difficult times at your work or in life. They can help you refocus on the positives. Most of all, the movie heroes can help remind you that you are never alone in your struggles. They are there cheering you on to unleash the strengths already inside you!
Other films with insights to help manage depression:
Awakenings (1990), 50 First Dates (2004), Hector and the Search for Happiness (2014), Patch Adams (1998), The Pursuit of Happyness (2006), Rocky Balboa (2006), Silver Lining Playbook (2012)
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© Emmanuel Lopez 2016