Manifesto (Feb 23′) – Movies for Mental Health

Hi, my name is AJ Kennedy. I am passionate about all things movies and the cinema.

With Movie. Health, I am exploring how I can use my life and work experience to contribute to healthcare innovation in Australia and address mental health challenges through the power of movies and Movie Therapy.


Being unwell sucks

It sucks getting sick and not being well, physically or mentally, sucks. Everyone wants to live a happy and healthy life their way.

Last year, after Christmas, I got COVID for the second time. I had mild symptoms, and my wife isolated me to keep away from our family. It worked, with my family not getting COVID again. However, on day 6, I was lying in bed at night, and I started to feel pressure on my chest and found breathing difficult. I walked outside to get some air to live through, but it worsened, and my heart rate accelerated. I started to get the sweats, and my hands began to tingle. It felt like (from what I imagined) I was about to have a heart attack. I woke my wife to help me, and we eventually called the ambulance. Thankfully, the symptoms subsided, and the monitoring of my vitals by the paramedics was all normal. A week passed without similar symptoms, and I had multiple episodes over several weeks. Was it COVID related? Was I being triggered and having panic attacks? Was it what I was eating? After various visits to GPs, treatment and being more health conscious, I am now back to feeling normal; however, it was an unpleasant, stressful experience.

I’m a happily married 40-year-old man with two little girls, a dog, a cat and a loving family. Being unwell not only sucks, but it also makes you think. You think about your health and what you could be doing differently, and you think about your family and friends, which can be highly stressful. Your mental health is under attack, along with your physical health.


The power of movies

I am incredibly fortunate. Friends and family support surround me if I feel unwell. However, I need something more to make me feel good. In that case, my common strategy is to watch movies, preferably at the cinema. Watching movies for me is cathartic, particularly horror movies. Even if I’m not unwell but feel I need a lift, I’ll go to or find a movie I’ve wanted to see on my list.

2021 study conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic found that watching horror and pandemic films allowed people to practice coping strategies that could be helpful in a real-world situation. [1]

In my time of health-related stress, I wondered. What if we could use the power of movies to make people healthier? As it turns out that watching movies can benefit our mental health. [1]

According to Birgit Wolz, one aspect of most movies is that they serve as allegories in much the same way as stories, myths, jokes, fables, or dreams, which can be used in psychotherapy. [2]

Watching movies helps us learn to understand ourselves and others more deeply in the “big movie” of our life. We develop a skill to see ourselves and the world more objectively — with less of our habitual rigid, judgmental, or emotional filtering. [2]


Movie Therapy

Movie Therapy is an evidence-based therapy where you watch movies and then use themes and metaphors in the movies to explore mental health challenges with a healthcare professional.

Movie Therapy or also referred to as “Cinema Therapy” is a form of expressive therapy – like art, music and dance therapy – for medical and mental health issues. The term was first coined by Dr Gary Solomon (The Movie Doctor). [3]

Segen’s Medical Dictionary defines cinema therapy as “therapy or self-help that uses movies, particularly videos, as therapeutic tools. Cinematherapy can catalyse healing and growth for those open to learning how movies affect people and watching certain films with conscious awareness. Cinematherapy uses the effect of imagery, plot, and music in film on the psyche for insight, inspiration, emotional release or relief and natural change. As part of psychotherapy, cinematherapy is an innovative method based on traditional therapeutic principles“. [4]


Movies for mental health

What if we could use Movie Therapy to improve mental health at scale? 

Mental health is crucial to overall health and well-being. Everyone loves movies. 

The National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing conducted in 2021 found that an estimated 1 in 5 (21%) Australians aged 16–85 experienced a mental disorder in the previous 12 months [5]. 

The cost-effectiveness of treating mental health issues is unequivocal: treating anxiety and depression lowers the cost of every chronic illness imaginable [7].

According to ABS, 2022 Strategies used for mental health, 2020-21, 27.6% “Did more of the things they enjoy”. (6). Like for me, watching a horror movie at a cinema. 

The connections people make through relationships, places and social activities can build a safety net for their physical and mental health. (6) Like going to the cinema with friends and family.

Research reports from Roy Morgan show that cinema attendance has soared by 77% in early 2022 as Australians have flocked back to see blockbusters such as Spiderman and Batman. The report says, “The large growth in cinema attendance this year has seen large increases across key demographics and driven attendances to their highest since the pandemic began early in 2020. 

Women’s attendance at the cinema is up a spectacular 88% for the March quarter 2022 compared to the prior quarter, whilst men are up by 67%.”  [8]

Connecting the dots. Cinematherapy could be used as a coping strategy for mental health.  OR, how might we improve mental health treatment rates with the power of movies?



I have many questions and assumptions that need to be addressed and validated.

I plan to talk to healthcare professionals, cinema therapists, cinema operators and industry experts to validate ways the power of movies can support mental health and well-being.

Watch this space

Movies for mental health




[1]. Psych Central. 2022. How Watching Movies Can Benefit Our Mental Health. Available from:

[2]. Birgit Wolz, PhD, MFT. 2016. Why cinema therapy works. Available from:

[3]. Routledge. Taylor & Francis Group. nd. Dr Solomon – film/video-based therapy. Available from:

[4]. Free Dictionary – Medical Dictionary. 2013. Cinema therapy. Available from:

[5]. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. 2022. Australia’s mental health services. Available from:

[6]. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2022. National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing. Available from:

[7].  World Health Organisation. 2021. WHO menu of cost-effective interventions for mental health. Available here:

[8]. The Inside Investor. 2022. Cinema attendance offers hope for the economy.  Available here: