Tags: grief, bereavement, mourning, therapy

While grieving, it can feel like our pain will last forever. You might wonder, does grief ever go away? When and how does grief end? Unfortunately, there are no simple answers as grief is both complex and personal. So then how do we cope with grief? How does grief change over time? What are some self-care tips for coping with grief? 

Loss is part-and-parcel of life. We all experience it at some point. Grieving is a natural response to this loss. In fact, coping with the loss of a loved one is one of the most challenging experiences we face in life.

In the moment, grief can feel insurmountable. However, the feelings of loss generally diminish over time. It is important to remember that everyone has their own timeline for grieving. Moreover, we all cope and react to grief in our own way. Another person’s grief can appear different from your own. But both your expression of grief and theirs are valid.

Grief is both complex and personal.

What Is Normal Grieving?

Normal grief is a completely natural psychological response to the loss of a loved one. When bereavement first occurs, we commonly experience what is termed as “normal grief” or “acute grief”. This phase usually occurs within a few weeks to 6 months (Boelen & Smid, 2017). 

Normal grief is stereotypically understood as having feelings of sadness and yearning for the deceased (Shear, 2012). However, it is good to note that just like how there are many triggers for grief, there are also multiple dimensions to grieving. 

Some ways in which normal grieving can occur are (Lally & Valentine-French, 2019; Mughal, Azhar & Siddiqui, 2021):

Emotional

  • Emptiness
  • Anger
  • Guilt
  • Helplessness
  • Disbelief
  • Shock
  • Irritable

Mental

  • Difficulty focusing on tasks
  • Recurrent thoughts of the deceased (eg memories resurfacing)

Psychological

  • Feeling hostile
  • Restlessness
  • Low moods

Physical

  • Falling ill
  • Feeling fatigued
  • Tearful
  • Bouts of nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headaches
  • Tension in the body
  • Muscle weakness
  • Upset stomach
  • Sleeping very little or sleeping more than usual
  • Eating very little or eating more than usual

Social

  • Withdrawing from social activities or participating more than usual

While extensive, this list of grief reactions is not exhaustive. You may experience other reactions to grief that are not listed here. The grief reactions that may seem more unique to you are still valid.

Most importantly, during this difficult period, we need to monitor our own well-being. This involves becoming aware of how grieving is affecting us and seeking support when needed, such as seeking medical attention for physical symptoms. Also, it can mean speaking to our loved ones or a therapist about the emotional, psychological, and mental struggles.

What Are the Stages of Grief?

One popular (but incomplete – more on this later) way in which grief has been conceptualized is in Kübler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief (1969). Originally, this model was created based on a study about individuals reacting to news on having a fatal diagnosis. However, overtime, the use of this model has been applied to other experiences of grief. This includes bereaved individuals (Stroebe, Schut & Boerner, 2017).

Each stage of grief was theorized to be experienced sequentially. This categorization was intended to provide more tailored support for individuals in each different stage. The five stages are (Kübler-Ross, 1969; Lally & Valentine-French, 2019):

Denial

  • The first emotional reaction to unexpected news.
  • This can be a conscious or unconscious decision to deny that a diagnosis is true. In addition, it can also be denying that the diagnosis has an impact oneself and that one is aware of the diagnosis.

Anger

  • A physical or emotion reaction with the intention of faulting someone. It allows one to have a temporary sense of control.

Bargaining

  • Attempts to negotiate about and postpone the situation. It creates a sense of distance from the situation.

Depression

  • Feeling sad and helpless.

Acceptance

  • A more stable state where one learns to integrate the news about impending death and carry on living.

Why the 5 Stages of Grief May Be Limited

The Kübler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief is widely applied. However, it is limited in helping us better understand grief. Here are some reasons why this model may not be an accurate representation of the grieving process (Stroebe, Schut & Boerner, 2017):

  • Individuals who are terminally-ill do not grieve similarly to bereaved individuals.
  • The categorisation of grief into five sequential stages is too prescriptive and often inaccurate. Strictly following the model can place undue expectations on bereaved individuals on how they should be grieving.
  • Moreover, the experience of grief can be incredibly complex. Naturally, bereaved individuals grieve in their own unique ways that are not accounted for in this model.
  • Not to mention that cultural differences and environmental factors (eg social support) of a bereaved individual will also change the grieving process for them. In essence, bereaved individuals can experience emotional reactions that fluctuate across time.

Kübler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief is unable account for individual differences in grieving. Mental health practitioners are generally not advised to use it. You may find that your experience of grieving is not accurately captured in this model. This is a normal occurrence and not a cause for concern. The way in which you process grief and move through the grieving process is unique to you.

Other Models of Grief

There are more accurate models of grief that have been proposed in place of Kübler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief. One such model is the Dual-process Model of Grieving (Stroebe & Schut, 1999). This model proposes that bereaved individuals move back and forth between grieving the loss and preparing for life without the deceased. Both processes facilitate normal grieving.

It also suggests that both confrontation and avoidance of loss are adaptive parts of the grieving process. The back and forth momentum continues until bereavement is completed.

Over the whole grieving process, a person’s relationship with the deceased changes form (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2021). This can be an adaptive way of coping with loss. It involves the concept of continuing bonds, where bereaved individuals retain their connection to the deceased individual and acknowledge the impact that the latter had on their lives.

It allows bereaved individuals to recognise their loss while not being debilitated by it (The Professional People Development, 2020). This can look like “talking” to a deceased individual at their grave. While the deceased is no longer around, bereaved individuals can still tap into memories about their presence.

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What Does Grief Do to Your Body?

Grief can harm our physical body. Since grief is a stress reaction, it can have debilitating impact on our health (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2021). Due to the changes in stress hormones, bereaved individuals can experience a weakened immunity. This can lead to some of the physical effects of grieving as listed above. Also, grief has been found to result in worse overall health for the bereaved (Romm, 2014). It can aggravate physical pain, increase blood pressure and blood clots. Furthermore, grief can place an individual at a higher risk of having a heart attack.

When we are aware of what grief does to our body, it reminds us to nourish our body with quality care. This includes being more aware of our physiological changes while grieving. It can mean going for more regular health check-ups and consulting a doctor about difficult physical symptoms.

Grief is a stress reaction and it can take a toll on us physically.

How Long Does Grief Last After a Death?

The duration of grieving will naturally differ for each individual. There is generally no standard “normal” timeframe in which a person is expected to grieve. The grieving process is very personal and based on many individual factors.

Some studies have attempted to provide a rough gauge for how long bereaved individuals experience more intense grief reactions. A study showed that grief reactions generally peaked around 2 to 4 months (Prigerson & Maciejewski, 2018). This includes emotions such as sadness, yearning and anger. The reactions gradually declined over a course of 2 years. Also, over this period, acceptance of loss gradually increased.

While these studies may aim to provide some understanding of the grieving process, yours is unique to you. Generally, it is important for us monitor how we are reacting to grief. This will provide information on how we are coping. If you are worried about the duration of your grief, you can consult a mental health professional. The professional will be able to provide individual assessment and address your doubts based on your situation.

How Long is Too Long Grieving?

There is no formal standard for how long an individual will grieve. There is also no short answer to the question when and how does grief end? The truth is, it really depends on each individual.

When we determine an individual is grieving for “too long”, it is in relation to an individual’s ability to cope. Clinically, this involves assessing if an individual is functioning well in different areas of life. These areas include one’s ability to run errands, continue to work and have a social life. When intense reactions to grief cause distress in one’s daily functioning and last beyond 6 months, it signals a problem. This can be a sign of complicated grief.

Complicated Grief

Complicated grief is defined as a condition where the bereaved remains distressed and unable to move towards acceptance (Shear, 2012). Generally speaking, grief does not usually require clinical treatment. However, for instances of complicated grief, mental health professionals are required to intervene. This is usually in the form of psychotherapy and/or peer support groups.

In the DSM-5, complicated grief is diagnosed as Persistent Complex Bereavement-Related Disorder. The symptoms of this disorder are (American Psychiatric Association, 2013):

  • Consistent deep yearning or longing for deceased
  • Feelings of loneliness, emptiness, and meaninglessness of life surface often
  • Recurring thoughts that it is not fair, meaningless or difficulty in living or recurring desire to die to join the deceased
  • Frequent overwhelming thoughts about the deceased (eg intrusive thoughts or images)

Generally speaking, Persistent Complex Bereavement-Related Disorder is diagnosed when one has been bereaved for at least six months. Also, symptoms of disorder above have persisted for a duration longer than the norm in one’s social group and culture. In addition, at least two symptoms of acute grief have been present for at least a month. An important aspect is that the symptoms have caused the bereaved significant distress and impairs their daily functioning.

If you believe that you might be suffering from complicated grief, it is important to seek appropriate treatment. You can seek out counselling services or consult a clinic for assistance.

Factors Affecting the Duration of Grieving

There are some factors that have been theorized to affect the duration of grieving. While these factors have been researched on, it is important to remember that grieving is deeply personal. The effect of factors can differ for each individual. Some factors which have been explored are (Milic, Muka, Ikram, Franco & Tiemeier, 2017):

Relationship with the deceased (eg spouse, child, parent, grandparent)

  •  When one is the spouse of the deceased, there tends to be a higher severity of grief.
    • In grieving, bereaved individuals tend to recall more positive memories of the decreased spouse and suppress negative memories. This causes difficulty in regulating moods and increases intensity of grief.
  • When one is the parent of the decreased, there is usually more intense and prolonged grieving (Lally & Valentine-French, 2019).
    • Bereaved parents tend to be unprepared for the passing of their child. They are also more likely to deteriorate in their physical and mental health.

Age of bereaved

  • Bereaved individuals who are older typically manage the grieving process better.
    • As people age, they tend to develop more adaptive coping strategies. When faced with challenging circumstances, these individuals are less emotional. Also, difficult emotions are better handled.

Intellectual capacity

  • People who are bereaved and have the capacity to rationally process grief tend to cope better. This provides opportunities to develop strategies to manage grief though exploring deeper meaning to life and its spiritual aspects.
There are many different factors that affect the duration of grieving.

Grief vs Mourning

What is the difference between mourning and grieving? Sometimes we see the terms being used interchangeably. However, they have distinctly different meanings (Casarett, Kutner, & Abrahm, 2001). Grieving is an individual’s personal reaction to loss. This encompasses emotional, mental, physical, and psychological aspects as listed above.

On the other hand, mourning is about how people adapt to a loss and often, an outward expression of grief. This tends to refer more to religious and cultural traditions of coping with grief. For example, this can commonly be seen in public funerals.

There are four objectives that mourning serves. This is encapsulated in Worden’s tasks of mourning (2018):

Accept the reality of the loss

  • This requires both an cognitive and emotional acceptance of loss. An inability or reluctance to accept loss can cause a use of maladaptive coping.

Process the pain of the grief

  • Three aspects: external, internal and spiritual
  • For the external aspect, the bereaved needs to adjust to an environment without the deceased. This can include:
    • Changes in social role
    • Development of skills to live without the deceased
  • In terms of the internal aspect, the bereaved needs to adapt to any changes in their sense of self.
    • Loss can impact an individual’s identity, self-esteem and self-efficacy. The bereaved needs to determine the significance of loss with regards to their self-identity.
    • Regarding the spiritual aspect, the bereaved needs to examine how life will be like moving forward.
    • It can be beneficial to enlist the help of a therapist to process any anxieties in this stage.

Find a way to remember the deceased while progressing on the rest of one’s life journey

  • This stage is centred around the bereaved moving on with life, while retaining positive association with the deceased.
    • Continuing bonds can be constructed for the bereaved, acknowledging both the loss and the memories of the deceased.
    • This creates opportunities for the bereaved to honour the deceased (eg living a life that the deceased wanted).

Process the pain of the grief

  • The bereaved may wish to seek support from loved ones or a therapist to process the difficult emotions.

  • The intensity of pain can vary across time but importantly pain needs to be validated, without an intention of suppressing it.

Mourning is a necessary step to allow bereaved individuals to process, accept and move forward after a loss. It is important to look for support when we require it. This can mean therapeutic help or emotional support from family and friends. In this phase, we may also wish to seek out religious or spiritual support if it feels necessary.

Self-Care Tips for Coping With Grief

When we are grieving, self-care can be a vital component in helping us cope. During the phase of acute grief, we can feel intense emotions and physical discomfort. Furthermore, we are often preoccupied with thoughts of the deceased. This can be an overwhelming experience to manage. It is good to treat ourselves with self-compassion and seek out support when we need. Some self-care tips for coping with grief are (HammondCare, 2021; U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2021):

Take care of your physical well-being

  • Maintaining a strong immune system is important, especially when you are more prone to falling ill while grieving.
    • Have a healthy diet.
    • Ensure that you have adequate rest and sleep. If you have trouble resting and sleeping, you may wish to consult a doctor for medical advice.
  • Engage in regular physical exercise to improve mood
  • Seek medical attention when you need it
  • Cultivate self-care habits
  • While grieving, it is important to show yourself more self-compassion. This can be in the form of self-care habits, such as treating yourself to a nice meal.

Give yourself time to reminisce about the deceased

  • Allow yourself time and space to think about the deceased. There is no need to suppress your thoughts or emotions. They need to be acknowledged to create opportunity for moving on.

Express your feelings for the deceased and honour them

  • You can convey how much the deceased meant to you through creative expression (eg writing or painting). This can assist in the processing of emotions and changes in sense of self that you face, and help you feel connected to the decreased.

Seek out social support

  • While grieving, we may find it helpful to speak with our loved ones. Sometimes, even their physical presence can be comforting.

  • You may find it beneficial to communicate with individuals who have been through similar losses and grief. There are many online grief support groups and communities you can approach for this.

Prioritise your mental and emotional health

  • Struggling with your mental and emotional health can be common in the grieving process

  • If you experience intense and overwhelming feelings of grief, post-traumatic symptoms or even depression, consult a therapist.

    To allow yourself to heal from symptoms of grief, it is important for you to get the support you require. Therapists are trained professionals who will help you develop better coping mechanisms and provide space to process emotions.

Grieving can be an overwhelming and difficult process to move through. It takes time for us to reach a stable state of accepting our loss. We all cope with it in our own ways. While allowing ourselves time to adapt to loss, we need to seek support when we require it. This can be especially important for our healing journey.
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References

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Boelen, P. A. & Smid, G. E. (2017). Disturbed grief: prolonged grief disorder and persistent complex bereavement disorder. British Medical Journal. Retrieved from https://www.bmj.com/content/357/bmj.j2016.full

Casarett, D., Kutner, J. S., & Abrahm, J. (2001). Life after Death: A Practical Approach to Grief and Bereavement. Annals of Internal Medicine, 134(3), 208

HammondCare. (2021). Bereavement: the first twelve months and beyond. Retrieved from https://www.hammond.com.au/documents/free-resources/23-bereavement-the-first-twelve-months-and-beyond/file

Kübler-Ross, E. (1969). On death and dying. New York, NY: Macmillan.

Lally, M. & Valentine-French, S. (2019). Grief, Bereavement, and Mourning. LibreTexts. Retrieved from https://socialsci.libretexts.org/Bookshelves/Human_Development/Book%3A_Lifespan_Development_-_A_Psychological_Perspective_(Lally_and_Valentine-French)/10%3A_Death_and_Dying/10.10%3A_Grief_Bereavement_and_Mourning 

Milic, J., Muka, T., Ikram, M. A., Franco, O. H., & Tiemeier, H. (2017). Determinants and Predictors of Grief Severity and Persistence: The Rotterdam Study. Journal of Aging and Health, 29(8), 1288-1307. doi:10.1177/0898264317720715

Mughal, S., Azhar, Y., Siddiqui, W. J. (2021). Grief Reaction. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507832/

Prigerson, H., & Maciejewski, P. (2008). Grief and acceptance as opposite sides of the same coin: Setting a research agenda to study peaceful acceptance of loss. British Journal of Psychiatry, 193(6), 435-437. Retrieved from https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry/article/grief-and-acceptance-as-opposite-sides-of-the-same-coin-setting-a-research-agenda-to-study-peaceful-acceptance-of-loss/F3E88293BAC745834323E0A4D25CB318

Romm, C. (2014). Understanding How Grief Weakens the Body. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/09/understanding-how-grief-weakens-the-body/380006/

Shear, K. M. (2012). Grief and mourning gone awry: pathway and course of complicated grief. Dialogues Clinical Neuroscience, 14(2), 119-128. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3384440/

Stroebe, M. S. , & Schut, H. (1999). The Dual Process Model of coping with bereavement: Rationale and description. Death Studies, 23, 197–224. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10848151/

Stroebe, M., Schut, H. & Boerner, K. (2017). Cautioning Health-Care Professionals: Bereaved Persons Are Misguided Through the Stages of Grief. Journal of Death and Dying, 74(4), 455-473. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0030222817691870

The Professional Development People. (2020). Continuing Bonds: Building Enduring
Connections in Loss and Grief. Retrieved from https://psychology.org.au/aps/media/events/attachments/21172/continuing-bonds2020_1.pdf

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2021). Grief: Taking Care of Yourself in the Aftermath of Loss. Retrieved from https://www.cdnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Grief-Self-Care-Handout.pdf

Worden, J. W. (2018). Grief counseling and grief therapy. A handbook for the mental health practitioner (5th ed.). Springer Publishing.

Over 80% manage depression successfully with therapy

Tags: movies, depression, mental health

Depression is one of the most common mental disorders worldwide (World Health Organisation, 2021). It is also often depicted in the movies, and this popularisation of depression in the media has facilitated many important conversations surrounding mental health. Through movies, viewers worldwide are given a glimpse into the world of an individual with depression. This allows them to learn much more about the disorder in a more accessible and relatable manner.

Movies about depression can act as psychoeducation. The characters provide insights on how symptoms can show up in a person’s behaviour and in their relationships with others. Through accurate depiction of depressive symptoms, audience may be better able to identify them in themselves or others around them. This can encourage early detection of depression.

Furthermore, movies tend to humanise individuals with depression. While characters are typically portrayed with their difficult life stories and daily struggles, they are not defined by it. Movies also cast light on characters’ strengths, individual personalities, and inherent emotional resilience.

This allows viewers to understand that people with mental disorders are more than just their illness. They are their own individuals as well. These scenes evoke empathy and more understanding for individuals who struggle with their mental health. Therefore, movies about depression have the vast potential to alleviate mental health stigma.

Note

The article offers a list of films that explore the complexities of depression.

The mentioned movies depict the struggles and experiences of individuals with depression and provide a blend of realistic portrayals and cinematic storytelling. The article also highlights how these films can improve understanding and empathy towards those dealing with mental health issues.

Read the description of each title below to pick a movie that resonates with you the most!

Can Watching a Movie Cause Depression?

Even though watching movies can evoke sadness, they do not cause depression. Movies can definitely be very immersive experiences. Through them, we develop attachments to characters and experience their highs and lows as if they are our own. However, despite the intensity of our feelings, they tend to be temporary and will fade over time. If you feel personally affected, remind yourself that it is okay to feel the intense emotions. The feelings you have are valid, and you can find outlets to express and ventilate your emotions. Nonetheless, these feelings generally will not persist beyond a few days.

Movies about Depression and Self-Harm

Some movies depict characters suffering from depression who display symptoms of self-harm. In general, self-harm involves inflicting pain and wounds upon oneself (eg in the form of cutting or burning). For viewers, these scenes can undoubtably cause discomfort. However, they reflect how depressive symptoms can manifest in self-destructive behaviours.

Here are some movies that involve characters who are depressed and engage in self-harming behaviour:

Thirteen (2003)

“Thirteen” is a movie by writer and director Catherine Hardwicke. This movie is semi-autobiographical, inspired by the life story of one of the actresses. The movie’s protagonist, Tracy, is an honours student in a middle school in Los Angeles. She is an overachiever but struggles to fit in with her peers in school. Besides facing difficult social situations in school, Tracy also struggles with her parents’ divorce. She exhibits some common symptoms of depression such as persistent low moods and low self-esteem.

When Tracy befriends Evie, a popular but wayward teenager in her school, she comes to learn more about substances and sex. Tracy begins to use these as avenues to cope. However, as Tracy faces more life stressors, her mental health continues to spiral. She copes with the feelings of depression through cutting. When Tracy’s mother, Melanie discovers her daughter’s self-inflicted injuries, she is distraught. Ultimately, the movie’s ending does not offer any satisfactory closure for Tracy or Melanie’s circumstances. 

The film sheds light on the grim realities of growing up with mental health struggles. Adolescents with mental health struggles tend to have difficult family backgrounds and peer relationships. The usage of substances and self-harming tendencies are outlets that they may utilise to escape their difficult emotions.

To Write Love on Her Arms (2012)

“To Write Love on Her Arms” (TWLOHA) is based on the true life story of Renee Yohe. Renee is the founder of the non-profit organization, TWLOHA, supporting individuals struggling with depression, self-harm, drug addiction and suicide. The movie depicts the difficulties that Renee faced with abuse and depression growing up. She coped with the traumatic experiences in her life through cutting. The long-term cutting behaviour resulted in scarring on Renee’s arms.

Later, Renee’s circumstances take a turn for the worse. At a school party, a schoolmate slips drugs into Renee’s drink and she developed an addiction to substances. Renee began to use substances regularly in pursuit of the pleasurable feelings of being high. Once, when Renee was unconscious from using drugs, a drug dealer sexually abused her. This incident made Renee realise that she needed to seek help. She reaches out to trusted schoolmates.

Renee then befriends a recovering drug addict, David, who gives motivational speeches. While awaiting her admission into a rehabilitation centre, David opens his doors to Renee. David assists Renee in the detoxification process, keeping her away from drugs and cutting. During this difficult withdrawal period, Renee meets David’s roommate, Jamie. As they confide in each other about their struggles, her resilience inspires Jamie and the latter invites her to share her story online. Renee’s compelling sharing sparked off the movement, TWLOHA, dedicated to helping others who struggle with their mental health.

The movie reflects how traumatic experiences in childhood can induce depression and self-harm. However, Renee’s story is also testament to the fortitude of individuals who struggle with depression and self-harm. Realistically, not every person who is depressed will create large positive societal changes. That said, it is important to recognise that people with mental health struggles possess their own strengths as well.

The Skeleton Twins (2014)

“The Skeleton Twins” is a movie by screenwriter and film director Craig Johnson. Its protagonists Maggie and Milo, are twins. In the beginning of the movie, the twins were estranged, living different lives across the country. Maggie and Milo both suffer from depression and battle suicidal thoughts. Their father had committed suicide when they were 14. In this aspect, the film depicts the high correlation of depression in family members. Moreover, it highlights one of the commonly known symptom of depression, suicidality.

Eventually, Milo attempts suicide by cutting his wrists and submerging his body in a bathtub. Maggie intends to attempt suicide by overdosing on pills. However, a phone call from the hospital about Milo’s suicide attempt interrupts her. She travels across the country to meet her brother. This creates opportunity for the twins to reconnect.

The reestablishment of relationship between Maggie and Milo invites them to reveal the struggles in their lives, including Maggie’s unhappy marriage and Milo’s preoccupation with past experiences with bullying. The life stressors rooted in interpersonal difficulties highlighted in Maggie’s and Milo’s situations are common for people who experience depression. On a brighter note, the film closes with the twins making major life changes and learning to accept their failure and flaws.

Movies about Depression and Anxiety

Besides depression, anxiety is a common mental disorder portrayed in movies. There is a tendency for individuals with depression to develop anxiety as well (Kalin, 2020). Movies are possibly an avenue for us to explore the relationship between these two mental health conditions.

Here are some movies on depression and anxiety:

Girl, interrupted (1999)

“Girl, Interrupted” is based on a memoir by author Susanna Kaysen. The story chronicles Susanna’s experience of being in a psychiatric ward. The movie depicts the journey of adolescent Susanna who experienced anxiety symptoms and overdosed on aspirin. She was then sent for a psychiatric evaluation and diagnosed with depression and borderline personality disorder (BPD). Individuals with BPD experience difficulties regulating their emotions. They tend to experience intense emotions, and often also have anxiety and depression.

When Susanna is admitted into ward, she befriends other patients, each with their own diagnosis of psychological disorders. The characters all have distinct personalities. This serves as a reminder for viewers to perceive people with mental health issues as individuals beyond their diagnosis.

With the help of her fellow patients, Susanna learns to navigate the psychiatric institution. The patients receive therapy and medication for mental disorders. However, the hospital enforces restrictions and sometimes cruel treatment on the patients. This acts as commentary on the harsh institutionalisation of people suffering from mental health conditions.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story (2010)

“It’s Kind of a Funny Story” was written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. The protagonist, Craig attends an elite high school. Besides engaging in social comparison with his peers, Craig faces pressure from his father to excel. Craig recognises his issues with managing stress levels. He consults a psychologist, who diagnoses him with depression and anxiety. Craig’s story highlights how environmental stress can play a big part in mental health struggles. This story especially relates to school-going children and adolescents who may face pressure to do well.

Despite taking his medication regularly, Craig still struggles with his mental health. In a bid to end his suffering, Craig formulates a suicide plan to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge. However, he manages to control his suicidal urges and calls a suicide hotline. Craig heeds the advice to ward himself in a psychiatric hospital for his own safety. While completing the procedures, the fear that his friends may regards him as ‘crazy’ burdens him. He also decides to keep his hospital stay a secret. Such turmoil reiterates how societal stigmatisation of mental health issues can affect people.

After checking himself in, Craig begins to forge friendships with other patients. Similar to the patients in “Girl, Interrupted”, they are unique individuals with their own struggles. On the other hand, the hospital environment in “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” is more therapeutic in nature. Patients engage in different activities and hobbies to keep them occupied. This contrast to a sterile hospital environment tells viewers that psychiatric patients deserve respect and humane treatment, and to have their individual preferences and needs addressed too.

The Perks of being a Wallflower (2012)

“The Perks of being a Wallflower” is based on a coming-of-age novel by Stephen Chbosky. Charlie, the main character, suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He experienced two main traumatic events in his life: the suicide of his best friend and being sexually abused as a child. Besides coping with his PTSD symptoms, Charlie faces other life stressors, such as worrying about his peers’ perception of him. He deeply desires friendships and fears being the unpopular kid. Charlie grows gradually depressed and anxious. The movie reflects that individuals with PTSD can experience comorbid anxiety and depression as well (Brady, Killeen, Brewerton, & Lucerini, 2000).

It is evident that Charlie’s PTSD flashbacks increase in intensity when faced with more life stressors. His mental health also deteriorates rapidly, such that symptoms of depression and anxiety recur. This occurs when Charlie witnesses the abuse of his sister by her boyfriend. Also, especially when he experiences conflicts with his friends and distances from them. This provides an insight for viewers into the reality of an individual with PTSD, anxiety and depression.

Over 80% manage depression successfully with therapy

Movies about Depression and Loneliness

Depression is at times portrayed in movies to be a cause of loneliness for characters. In fact, lonely people tend to experience more depressive symptoms (Mushtaq, 2014). There is much overlap between loneliness and depression, such as emotional pain and helplessness.

Here are some movies that depict both depression and loneliness:

Sylvia (2003)

“Sylvia”, directed by Christine Jeffs, follows the biography of Sylvia Plath. Plath was a renowned writer and poet of her time. The movie opens with Sylvia meeting her future husband, Ted. They fall in love and decide to get married. However, as the film goes on, Sylvia is depicted as emotionally fragile. She is both passionate and bitter in her marriage.

Having experienced the traumatic death of her father and symptoms of major depressive disorder early in life, Sylvia continued to struggle. She had the common symptoms of persistent low moods, problems with sleeping and thoughts of suicide. Eventually, after starting a family, Ted has an affair and moves out of the house. This plunges Sylvia deep into depression and loneliness, and who turns to poetry as her main outlet for expressing grief.

Arguably, the circumstances in Sylvia’s life perpetuated her depressive symptoms and her loneliness as well. This includes her unhappy marriage, her husband’s affair and the early death of her father. The movie shows how experiencing difficult life events can worsen depressive symptoms.

Helen (2009)

“Helen” is a movie directed by Sandra Nettelbeck that portrays how a woman overcame severe depression. She is a talented musician, but she slowly finds herself losing the ability to regulate her emotions. While in her inner struggle against depression, Helen attempts to stay emotionally connected to her husband and daughter. However, due to her depression, she feels a distance growing between her and her loved ones. Helen’s repeated breakdowns frighten her daughter and she begins to feel isolated. These difficulties in connecting with loved ones are common aftereffects of depression. This can be informative for viewers, as the impact depression has on relationships is often overlooked.

The social rejection from her loved ones causes Helen to spiral further into her depression. Helen attempts suicide unsuccessfully. During a hospital visit, Helen reveals that depression had precipitated her failed marriage in the past. She feared that the same fate awaited her second marriage. Fortunately, Helen is able to find solace in one of her students who had experienced depression as well. She encourages Helen in her treatment seeking journey, while not placing excessive expectations upon her. Helen’s student’s willingness to be non-judgmental, understanding and supportive was helpful for Helen. This interaction between Helen and her student can be a source of inspiration and guidance for viewers. They can learn about how to better support an individual struggling with mental health issues.

Helen’s family grows to become more understanding of her condition as well. They accept that she will need time to recuperate and move beyond her depressive symptoms. This film sheds light on how loved ones of individuals with depression are often affected. They too are required to adjust to the needs of the person who is depressed, in order to create a therapeutic environment for them.

Cake (2014)

“Cake” written by Patrick Tobin and directed by Daniel Barnz, depicts a woman’s journey with chronic pain. Claire, a former attorney was involved in a car accident. This resulted in the death of her son, chronic pain and physical disfigurement. The incident causes Claire to spiral into depression. She withdraws from people in her life, including her husband, except her housekeeper, Silvana. This social withdrawal is a common consequence of depression as well.

After conflicts with people in her life, Claire begins to experience suicidal urges. She copes through overdosing on her pain medication and abusing alcohol. Claire struggles but strives to continue living. She reflects on her grief and pain, and eventually finds peace in her thoughts. This movie highlights as well the resilience that some people suffering from depression have exhibited. Through Claire, viewers can better understand the inner conflict individuals with mental disorders can face when battling their suicidal urges.

Takeaway

Depression is a common condition that affects over 280 million people worldwide.

Watching movies about depression can be an effective way to connect with your symptoms and learn more about how it affects your life. Note that movies can be triggering – read the trigger warnings before watching to make sure that you are comfortable with the themes discussed in the media.

If you or someone you know are experiencing signs of depression, consider talking to a mental health professional for personalised therapeutic plans and support.

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References

Brady, K. T., Killeen, T. K., Brewerton, T., & Lucerini, S. (2000). Comorbidity of psychiatric disorders and posttraumatic stress disorder. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 61(7), 22–32. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10795606/

Kalin, N. H. (2020). The Critical Relationship Between Anxiety and Depression. American Journal of Psychiatry, 177(5), 365-367. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2020.20030305

Mushtaq, R. (2014). Relationship Between Loneliness, Psychiatric Disorders and Physical Health ? A Review on the Psychological Aspects of Loneliness. Journal Of Clinical And Diagnostic Research, 8(9), 1-4. doi:10.7860/jcdr/2014/10077.4828

World Health Organisation. (2021). Depression. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression