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14 Robin Williams Movies That Have Helped People Through Depression

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Last December, while scrolling through submissions from our Mighty contributors, one headline stuck out: “An Angel at LAX,” from writer Kate Lyon Osher. On what happened to be a difficult personal day for me, I selfishly jumped to edit what I assumed would be a light, act-of-kindness story.

Instead, I read what I still consider one of the most powerful pieces we’ve had the privilege of publishing.

Turns out, that “angel” was Robin Williams, who, after watching Osher go through a heartbreaking altercation with TSA while grieving her husband’s suicide, approached her and offered the kind of condolences only a person who truly gets it could give. I won’t retell all of Osher’s story (seriously, go read it), but it gives us a glimpse into the kind of person Williams was — one who, despite his own pain, wanted to make everyone around him happy.

This is a quality people with depression know all too well and why Williams’ death has had such an impact on the mental health community. Though the comedian did talk openly about his depression and addiction, he was better known for making us laugh. For that, we’ll always be thankful.

Though we all don’t have the experience of meeting him in an airport, at one point or another, Williams probably inhabited our living rooms or movie theaters. His films have continued to comfort us all, especially when we are struggling. To commemorate this, we asked our mental health community to share the Robin Williams movies that help them when they’re struggling with depression. We hope he knew how much he meant to us.

So often, depression convinces us no one cares if we are here or not. Please don’t believe this. If you are struggling, reach out. There is help. If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

We miss you, Robin. Thank you for the films below:

1. “Good Will Hunting”

“The scene where he is counseling Will (Matt Damon’s character) and he tells him, ‘It’s not your fault’ over and over again. When I was struggling so bad, that is all I wanted to hear from someone. I got so much reassurance from that scene.” — Madison T.

“I had always covered up my emotions with humor or tangents, too afraid to get close to someone, and pushed them away. It took my therapist and my fiance to help me, find me and accept I needed help, to know it wasn’t my fault. I’m doing better now, but still fight with demons daily.” — Kimberly T.

2. “What Dreams May Come”

“The movie had so much depth, and Robin Williams portrayed his character so well.
This movie has stayed with me, maybe because it touched on the big life questions about love, grief, betrayal, abandonment, hope, death, etc.” — Brenda N.

“Very underrated because many look at it as very dark and sad, but I see it as a testament to all that you can overcome if you never give up believing. That things are not always what they seem but rather the way in which you choose to see them.” –Jennifer T.

3. “Patch Adams”

“Patch Adams has always been a favorite of mine. It has its ups and downs (and always there for a good cry), but the lesson about living life and laughing whenever you can is a great reminder.” — Liz T.

“Having a doctor care about more than just the ‘science’ of an illness… them treating the patient’s emotional needs as well… it stuck with me. It’s actually what I look for in a doctor now. I need someone to see me as a person and not just as a mental illness.” — Lisa M.

“He spent so much time spreading joy. Even after a patient takes the love of his life he ends up returning and continuing his work. Did his heart break? Absolutely. Did he want to stop? Bet your ass he did. But he got up and continued to help people. He taught me: even broken people can make a difference.” — Angela B.

4. “Dead Poets Society”

“He was unconventional but inspired his class to be unconventional, too. To look at life differently. I love that unconventional can inspire and do good. It inspires me to try even though my mental illness makes me unconventional.” — Martha W.

“It was probably the first movie that dealt with mental health (specifically depression/suicide) that I ever saw, and it helped me understand some of those feelings within myself. It also was a huge inspiration for me to seek out the arts and poetry as a way to find connection.” — Jen L.

“No matter what, he just wanted those boys to find their voice and become independent. He didn’t care what happened to him. As long as he knew he made a small difference, he was happy. Knowing there are people out there who have that exact mindset eases my mind when trying to find the good in this world.” — Christa M.

5. “Aladdin”

“When Genie made the big speech about how he longed to be free — that resonates so much with me because isn’t that what we all want? To be free from our illnesses and to be able to control our own lives and our own feelings? It’s one of my favorite childhood movies so it also has the nostalgic side as well.” — Charlotte H.

“I can relate to the part about wanting to be free all too well. I have severe depression and anxiety along with bipolar disorder, and I never feel in control of my own life, I never feel like I am my own. I always feel worthless and don’t understand how people put up with me, but there’s another quote when Genie says to Al that he ‘is always going to be a prince in Genie’s eyes.’ And to me, I may view myself so low, but to others they still see me through my mess and value every part of me.” — Heather B.

6. “Mrs. Doubtfire”

“‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ will always make me laugh so hard that my stomach hurts. But any movie with Robin Williams is guaranteed to make you live in somebody else’s world instead of your own for a little while.”  — Lyssa C.

7. “The Bird Cage”

“Despite how bad my depression gets, this movie always makes me laugh. It reminds me to accept myself for what I am and to be proud as hell of that.” — Clara B.

8. “Hook”

“When I was growing up, my family used to watch that movie every time it came on, and it stuck with me. It’s my favorite Peter Pan story to date. I’ve always loved the idea of a place I could fly off to and fight pirates and swim with mermaids. Watching him rediscover his inner child while I was growing up has helped me keep mine thriving.” — Alex H.

“Everything about his character in this movie was raw and emotional. There is such a magnificence and wonder that erupts when he discovers he is indeed Peter Pan. That feeling of being trapped as an adult and wanting that rush and excitement of being a kid again (before depression) makes me happy in ways I thought were long gone.” — Jennifer S.

“One scene at the very end keeps me going…

Wendy: So your adventures are over..
Peter: Oh no, to live — to live will be an awfully big adventure.” — Christopher G.

9. “The Fisher King”

“‘The Fisher King’ really resonated with me. The mistakes we make, the price that others sometimes pay for them, but the possibility of finding redemption in each other. It’s the first film I can remember where the mentally ill character was not a parody or a caricature.” — Shaun S.

“‘The Fisher King’ explored the realities of the mentally ill with humor, drama and deep compassion. I can think of no other movie that explores the interactions and the fine lines between ‘normal’ and ‘madness’ with more humanity. Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges embody the ongoing struggles of a society fractured by a need to improve understanding. The grace and message of this movie has been sadly overlooked, but it gave me hope that the world can change its broken attitudes.” — Kay W.

10. “Jack”

“Jack, because though he faced difficulties on an emotional level, he finds the right support system, helping him live a fuller happier life. Just like those of us who go through dark times.” — Chris S.

11. “Night at the Museum”

“‘Night at the Museum’ because he knew that even though he was stuck during the day (like a depressive episode where you can’t move), he knew that it wouldn’t always be that way.” — Mikayla M.

12. “August Rush”

“It is one of the only movies where he didn’t pretend, and you could tell he wasn’t. This movie made me realize, even the greatest struggled.” — Devin H.

13. “Awakenings”

“I can’t really explain why, but I feel he was most like himself in that movie. He portrayed a lonely man with no real connection to anyone, but he put his heart in his work and his success brought him joy. In the end, he was lighter and more free with a better ability to connect to people other than his patients. He was trying so hard to be a part of something. That’s what I want for myself.” — Noreen A.

14. “The Angriest Man In Brooklyn”

“‘The Angriest Man In Brooklyn’ was possibly the most unlikely of his films to give me hope during depression… but it really did. His character was a man who was constantly angry at the whole world, and he was told by a doctor that he was dying. That same doctor follows him to try to convince him to get treatment and helps him to reconnect with the family he had alienated. It gives me hope that there are strangers out there who care that much and that no matter the reason you lost touch, you can reconnect with friends and family who have drifted away.” — Jenny B.

I also wanted to include a few answers from our community members who said they couldn’t pick just one film. Their words seemed too powerful not to share:

“I want to say only one of his movies affected me. I want to say one truly stands out… but that isn’t the case. He was my role model, my icon. From my lack of a fatherly figure in my life, he was the one I looked up to. My first chapter book I read was ‘Flubber,’ which he starred in. I’ve seen all his movies multiple times, I have connected with each of them, his passing affected me tremendously. He even met my dying nephew in a San Francisco children’s hospital. He connected to my family, I remember placing my feet in his prints at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. I saw all his video-taped beginning comedy, I watched this man through his whole career. So no, it wasn’t just one film or one moment of this man that I connected with, it was him entirely. He impacted my life in such a way that any star hopes to reach with his fans. I’m not some starstruck fan though; he inspired me in my life. When he died, a part of me went with him. So in essence, all his films were relatable for me.” — Kristina C.

“At first, I wanted to follow the rules and give you one answer. Then I realized that was an impossible task for me. I grew up watching his films, and as an actor myself, I admired his fearlessness, his authenticity, his energy, his creative genius. We can mask our mental illnesses by acting, but being an actor requires you to take off your masks. Any actor worth their salt will tell you that creating a character is a cathartic experience; you have to bring truth to your roles if you want to connect with your audience and that’s what Robin did best… We share an anniversary; I woke up alive… he didn’t. I don’t ever envision an August 11th without commemorating the day with a Robin Williams movie marathon. He shows me not that my bipolar disorder will be my death sentence, but that despite the manic depression, I can use my talents and live a full life. ‘What will your verse be?’” — Leah T.

“No one film, but a characteristic of all his roles. He always was able to truly show sadness. Seeing glimpses of what I perceived as true sadness made me realize it’s normal to feel sad and alone. It also made me feel that it’s acceptable to show raw emotion, which has helped me in life as well as therapy.” — Rebecca S.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

Originally published: August 11, 2017
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