Movies have always helped us slide effortlessly into a world of human relationships, emotions, history and travel through various cultures and cities. This, in turn, helps us negotiate with reality and create a dialogue with ourselves. Increasingly, psychologists are beginning to understand that forms of media like movies significantly influence the way we think. It is especially true in a country where Bollywood has such a big hold over people. When movies take up mental health issues, they place these topics into our consciousness and start much-needed conversations.
Mint spoke to three psychologists and asked them to pick movies to watch that can help drive the narrative around mental health. Here are some of them.
Aleeka Kumar, a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist
Kumar finds movies to be a vital part of the dialogue during counselling sessions. She says: "A lot of times, clients use it consciously or, more importantly, subconsciously to convey a message. Sometimes a film seems to have a more layered language around a situation, and I recommend that the client watches it."
Her picks include the following:
● A Beautiful Mind: This movie has proven to be a canvas for projecting and processing emotion for many, especially because the central character's journey is extremely strong and emotion-heavy. The movie depicts a first-person account of a schizophrenic patient and the caregiver, providing adequate insights into the disorder.
● Forrest Gump: This movie enriches our understanding of life, as the central character is someone with a low IQ who is persistent and resilient amidst historical changes and events. It shows how essential a strong support system is to strong self-confidence and self-belief.
● Submarine: A coming-of-age drama, this movie outlines certain phases of life and the stifled struggles they carry. These include sexuality, aggression and identity crisis. While it may seem like a teenage drama like any other, it is a powerful film that highlights the struggles most teenagers go through and the emotional upheavals they experience.
● Dear Zindagi: Providing a sneak peek into what a therapeutic experience entails, Dear Zindagi is one of the few Indian films that does away with the stigma around mental health.
Meher Makkar, counselling psychologist, Kaha Mind, Bengaluru
Makkar believes movies are an essential medium in our country, given the popularity of Bollywood. "More than the movies themselves, my discussions around them with some of my teachers/mentors and colleagues have been quite key to my learning. A lot of our conversations around understanding the characters' motivations, linking these to theory and even critiquing some of the depictions has been part of the process of learning and applying psychology to the real world," she says.
Her top picks include:
● The Perks Of Being A Wallflower: It's a great movie that talks about navigating changes and new experiences as a young adult while dealing with experiences of trauma from the past. It also speaks about the value of positive relationships and a support system.
● Udaan: It is about a teenager and how he navigates pressures around his career and experiences of violence at home. I think many young people go through some similar themes in their lives, and this movie points to how family and cultural norms significantly impact youth mental health.
● Margarita With A Straw: If we are trying to understand mental health, I think it's vital to include gender, sexuality and disability as part of that understanding. This movie is one of the more sensitive and empowering narratives around disability and sexuality in Bollywood.
Hansika Kapoor, clinical psychologist, research author at Monk Prayogshala, Mumbai
Kapoor believes that all media portrayals of mental health—be it through television series, OTT platforms, music lyrics, movies, or comics—are crucial for psychoeducation (informing the general public about the importance of mental health as well as moving toward de-stigmatisation). She elaborates this point by recalling, "Although I do not watch Bigg Boss myself, there was a recent episode aired on 22 August where anxiety symptoms were brought up (and possibly misdiagnosed) by housemates," she says. "In the weekend episode, the host, Karan Johar, helped clarify some of these concerns regarding anxiety and depression symptoms and guarded against self-diagnoses, promoting visits to certified mental health professionals."
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Her picks include the following
● Inside Out: It is one of the best representations of what happens when cognition (thinking) meets emotion (feeling). The movie is also extremely relatable and easy-to-understand for both children and adults, especially when it comes to a basic explanation of how the mind works.
● Good Will Hunting: One of the earliest movies I had seen depicting the therapeutic setting was Good Will Hunting. It was interesting to see how psychotherapy can be applied to resistant clients.
● Experimenter: The film is based on the true story of the social psychologist Stanley Milgram. It throws light on some of his social experiments, the most notable one being that of humans obeying authority while administering electric shocks to strangers.