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How Humans of Cinema Is Changing Perceptions of Mental Health


It’s still pretty rare to find mental health represented on the big screen or television, and sometimes when mental health does make it onscreen, it’s not a great portrayal. However, Instagram account Humans of Cinema wants to show how films and beloved movie characters can still make a big difference when you’re struggling with your mental health, whether it’s because you can relate or because they give you hope and moments of joy.

Harshit Bansal is the human behind Humans of Cinema, and he wants to show the real-world impact of film on the lives of people, including their mental health. To do this, Bansal solicits submissions from followers about how films from around the world left a lasting and powerful impression. The stories are then posted to the Humans of Cinema Instagram account with a letter about why the film is so important and a custom graphic to represent the film, TV show or character.

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"Dear Leslie, I care a lot, it's kinda my thing too. You annoyingly amazing multi-faceted goddess with unfaltering sunny ambition, you gave me the chills when I first saw you. From having a full blown affair with our planners, to obsessing over people we love, to pushing all limits while working , to screaming at every misogynist in sight, and even planning to draw a petition for declaring waffles as a food group real soon: we're so much like each other, only you are so much like my ideal self. We also share a love for gifting that no other living object in this world, real or fictional would understand. I love how your determination can be grating, that occasionally people get mad at you, that sometimes you have to take a step back and realize you're neck deep in crap. But your passion is never the villain. I love how you always strive to do the right thing, how you fail, get right back up and sprint tirelessly towards your goals. I truly admire how you don't give two shots about being a paragon of virtue and, at worst, just likable. You don't portray yourself as someone who has it all together, and you rightfully embrace your mess. I appreciate how you are always your authentic self, who can be also frustrating at times. You demonstrated that purpose is passion in action. I learnt how to be a better feminist, to pick better role models, to validate my big hairy audacious dreams and understood (with great difficulty) the value of team support. You and Ben gave so many of us couple goals and your relationship helped me gain better perspective about how friendship and respect are equally important (if not more) as love. At an age where most people thought of my enthusiasm to be too much, you put up an example of how it is a virtue so underrated. Thank you for showing me it's okay to fiercely take up space and be myself unapologetically, a woman who cannot be shamed and embarrassed. I think of you a lot, especially right now with what's going on in my country. Only you can save India's sorry ass, Knope. Because of you, maybe, just maybe, one day I'll run for office too. And if I do, I hope to lead with love and authenticity." – @noirmypinot

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Bansal, from Delhi, India, said he wanted to change the conversation about movies as just a form of entertainment and show how films around the world are shaping and changing human lives. The tagline on his Instagram account reads, “Cinema for Change, Positivity and Mental Health.” By following the stories shared on Instagram, Bansal hopes more people will find films and TV shows they can identify with, which can remove stigmas around mental health conditions and encourage people to seek help.

The Mighty reached out to Bansal and asked him more about Humans of Cinema, including why he started the account, how it has impacted him and the response he has gotten so far from the mental health community, especially in his home country, India.

Here’s what Bansal told us:

Why did you create Humans of Cinema on Instagram? What inspired you to start?

The inspiration to start the page came from a very honest place of wanting to work on the subject that I’ve always been the most passionate about: the impact of cinema. I’ve been a film buff all my life, but I started thinking about the personal, social and cultural impact of films only in the past few years. And while I continued to be affected by films so deeply and also kept on observing a similar effect on the society in general, it was baffling to see some people insulting cinema by calling it merely a source of entertainment with no social repercussions. And I just felt that the best way to disprove them would be through people sharing their own experiences of how films have had a significant impact on their lives. And that’s how the name came about too. It’s less about the films themselves and more about the humans that watch them.

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Dear Harry Potter, In times of dread you taught us that even someone who has stayed inside a dark closet can become the greatest wizard in the wizarding world. You, Ron and Hermione helped me find courage when "accio" failed to do so. It wouldn't have been possible for me to break norms without you as you told everyone that no matter Gryffindor or Slytherin, whatever label they put on you, at the end having the traits of all the houses matter. On certain nights when the dementors of anxiety floated above in the ceiling not letting me sleep, playing "Hedwig's Theme" on my phone worked no less than the patronus charm. Sirius Black taught us no matter what background you come from, you can still be a better person. Lupin taught us that our internal self cannot overpower what we do. Snape taught us that a mask is not always used to hide deformities, sometimes it hides bravery and resilience. Bellatrix Lestrange even though is one of the most hated characters showed us unconditional devotion towards the one you love, in her case you-know-who. My ears will never stop ringing of the "ear-holey" jokes of Fred and the mischiefs of George. Dobby on the other hand showed no matter what your shortcomings are, being a good friend is not a tough job. At the end, thank you for teaching us that it doesn't take evil to defeat evil because you never used "avada kedavra" an unforgivable curse to kill the dark lord. Lumos, Arya (Ravenclaw Wizard) . . On Harry and J.K. Rowling's Birth anniversary, @aryeahwrites shares his #CinemaStory on Harry Potter. . . #HumansofCinema #happybirthdayharrypotter

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How has Humans of Cinema impacted your life?

The impact has been really significant. When I started the page, my only intent was to connect with more cinephiles from around the world and help start a conversation around cinema in a way that hadn’t been done before. But I never imagined to receive the kind of response that I’ve been getting. To see that there are many more people who are interested in being a part of conversations that correlate cinema with subjects like positivity and mental health has been extremely reassuring for me. I get messages from people saying how much they connect with the stories and how the posts on the page act cathartic for them on a bad day. So it feels good to know that in the age of an increasingly negative social media, the page is creating a, however little, positive impact in people’s lives.

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"Dear Avengers, To say that we've had a hard journey would be making an understatement. We've come a long way, you and me. You may not be real, but you guys taught me how to care, how to love, how to dream, how to live for others, how to seek adventures. You taught me how to look at life from a different perspective, helped me find my real friends and my own strength. You made me laugh, you made me cry. It has been one hell of a rollercoaster ride. Thank you for telling me that it's okay to fall at times, to not be someone people want you to be because all we have to do is get back up and be who we actually are. I guess we will all have our superhero moment just like Wanda had 'You step outside that door, you're an Avenger.' Who  knew that Nick Fury's idea to bring together a group of superheroes would actually work? I guess he just believed in it and in you guys, just like all of us did. Each one of you had your own share of ups and downs but just like Captain said, you guys stuck together and fought all of it. I am writing this to you guys with tears in my eyes. We've come a long way from where it all started. Seeing Tony transform from a self obsessed genius to a father figure to Peter, seeing all of you fight against Loki to seeing him sacrifice his life for Thor and Asgard, to see all of you do whatever it takes, it has been one hell of a ride. I hope he is seeing you from above Thor, he loved you, he really did. A part of the journey is the end. Right Tony? All I want to say is that I'll always be with you, thank you for existing and making me believe in myself. I believe in you guys and if there is any single possibility of you guys living in a parallel dimension, I would find my way to you. I'll need a hand from Scott and Hope though.  With you till the end of line xX. Just a guy who believes in you, Hritvik". . Hritvik ( @biryanimonsterr ) shares his #CinemaStory on the Avengers franchise, 2012 – 2019. . #HumansOfCinema

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What type of feedback have you received from the mental health community about the project?

The response from the mental health community has been overwhelmingly positive. In fact, the first time I tried to explore the mental health aspect of cinema was in collaboration with Mental Health Talks India itself. We started receiving many messages from people who wanted to share stories of how a film/TV show helped them through a tough time. That has continued to be an important theme of the page, and ever since then, I’ve talked to many mental health professionals and bloggers who have expressed a fondness for the idea and the work that we’re doing.

…With the help of cinema, we’re being able to make conversations around mental health more accessible to people who are otherwise not comfortable with it yet. Mental health is still a taboo in India, and people’s sensibilities around it are still evolving. Since cinema is something that a lot of people relate with, it could become a way to make talking about mental health a bit easier than it is.

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"Dear Chandler Bing, I thought my idea of a perfect man would require me to find a dozen men and meld then into them into one, but then, I met you. Your dysfunctional family and rough childhood made you fear commitment, but you overcame it, and how! You grew with every passing day. Like you, I can't cry a lot too, but I was a puddle of tears when you proposed to Monica. You have always respected the differences between you and Monica, and you care for her happiness more than you care for your own. Be it by going for a fancy wedding because she always dreamt of having one, or by deciding to go for artificial insemination because surrogacy would be hard for her, you have time and again proved how selfless you are in love. I know you thought Monica was already a mother while you would become a father only after the baby comes, but I knew you were wrong. You treated Joey as your own child- you would make games up to give him money, even the house you dreamt of had an apartment over the garage where Joey could grow old. I always knew you would make a great father. You have always respected Monica for who she is. You have never tried to dominate her because you are the “man of the house”. You understood when she chose her new job over moving with you Tulsa. You weren't insecure of her being the breadwinner when you decided to leave your job. You let out your vulnerabilities with your self-deprecating humor; you are capable of laughing at yourself. You symbolise an alternative masculinity we really need, Chandler. Finally, let me tell you that you are the funniest man in the world, and I can assure you that even though I haven't met that guy from Monica's work. Also, invite me over for Thanksgiving sometime, I will appreciate your Cranberry sauce even if no one does. Love, more witty one-liners, and less awkward pictures, Arundhati ( @_reelity_ ) " . #DearMovies #humansofcinema #ChandlerBing #Friends #MatthewPerry

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You can see all of the posts from Humans of Cinema on Instagram, and Bansal accepts submissions via email.

Images via Humans of Cinema/Instagram