Screen Critics Adam Williams takes time out to explore the link between cinema and depression.
It’s a sad but true matter of fact that a large number of people suffer from depression and anxiety, having to deal with it on a day to day basis, with film being one very important means of helping them. Personally I have been dealing with depression for the past 9 years and in that time, I have turned to cinema on a number of occasions to help with this is some small manner. This is not just as a means of distraction but as a method to escape for a short time and connect with characters and worlds away from my own and the help this has personally brought is difficult to calculate over these years.
This is not to say that film should be used to help bury your head in the sand and hope that all your problems go away, obviously that would not be a healthy way to deal with your issues in the long run. However what it can be is a small step towards providing some sense of normalcy and comfort in a mind-set where it can be extremely difficult to feel this. It can be a way to help put our problems into perspective but also makes us realise that we’re not alone in our suffering, even if the parameters are not entirely the same.
From my own personal experience and what I have spoke about with others, is that people who speak about their depression can sometimes be perceived to be ‘loners’ and someone who generally does not like to socialise because it can cause them great anxiety even being in crowded environment such as the pub. But cinema has been the anomaly in this theory for myself and a few others who I know deal with this as well. It can be just the right kind of environment because it settles you into a comfortable environment and you tend to become distracted from the thoughts that crowd your mind and concern you as soon as the projector starts rolling and the story is in front of you. Scenarios like this can be the perfect method to help with worries like this as they push you out of your comfort zone to a degree but don’t leave you adrift so far that you feel like you’re drowning in the ocean.
Switching off your brain does not have to be the primary goal though when using cinema as a means to help with depression, but also a gateway to help you think plus showing the world in a different light that you may never have considered before. Now just watching something mindless that does not concern you with an intricate plot is always good for the soul now and again, then again in my own experience, I have found that deep and interesting films can be just as effective as a popcorn movie. When it comes to stories that are far more than just a surface level , it can sometimes be the perfect catalyst to stop your brain from flooding itself from thoughts and fears, which can frankly get too much at even the best of times. Being sucked into a world where you don’t know what will happen next but the clues are laid out in front of you as you try to piece them together really does put a halt on the brain when it needs to.
I have had personal experiences with this and one of the most memorable for me was during 2015, I had been unemployed for the better part of a year with seemingly no prospects of employment on the horizon or money in the bank. At a very early hour of the morning, my mind decided this would be the perfect time to have those worries come to the forefront of my brain. A distraction was urgently required otherwise this singular concern would occupy my brain for the preceding day otherwise.
In the end, the film that I landed on was Chris Nolan’s Interstellar which up until that point I had not seen. The grand scale balanced with the personal story was the perfect concoction needed at that very moment and within 30 minutes, it was more than apparent that this was the perfect point of distraction with the world and its characters pulling me in and I became desperate to find out what was going to happen. That small act of watching a film saved me to a degree, it had not been my worst moment nor was it my best. But the simple action of just watching a story that captivated my attention away from my spiralling thoughts was a huge relief, once I had realised that effect it had caused.
Now obviously it is not as grand a saviour as stopping someone from being hit by a car or anything like that. But when you are battling a mental illness like depression on a daily basis, any small victory such as that is necessary and can really boost you up.
Film for myself as well as a lot of others has been an avenue that we have had to take many times and will continue to do so for as long as we need. It can be a daily struggle and any sort of relief to take that away, even for just a few small hours can make all the difference. The cinema can be a great tool for change and for good in all different walks of life and as long as it manages to help even one single person, then the world will be a slightly better place for it.