15 Films Which Give The Best Depictions Of Mental Illnesses

#WorldMentalHealthDay drove conversations across the Globe on Monday in a continued drive to break down stigma’s surrounding mental health. We felt that the power of film can provide eye opening moments for viewers who may not necessarily know much about individual conditions and the impact they have on the sufferers and those around them.  There’s no shortage of films that talk about topics concerning mental health. Some have honest, poignant depictions, while others—to put it politely—aren’t worth your time. To help you navigate the films worth investing a watch in, we have put together a list of  films that are brilliant and worthy depictions of mental illnesses (as well genuinely brilliant films) Some aren’t easy watches, yet all are important in highlighting conditions that affect far too many people. We recommend you watch all of these films.

  1. Still Alice (2014)


Still Alice is made all the more heartbreaking by its accurate use of familial Alzheimer’s Disease. Though not a mental illness, the film sensitively portrays the mental health symptoms that can come with the disease and Moore deservedly picked up numerous awards for her nuanced, flawless performance. Kristen Stewart’s turn as younger daughter Lydia is one of the movie’s strongest arcs due to it not taking the easy option in regards to her reaction to her mother’s diagnosis.

2. Rain man (1988)


This classic movie tells the story of a man living with autism, Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) and his brother Charlie (Tom Cruise). Raymond’s characteristics throughout the film accurately exemplify the habits and ritualistic behaviors of someone who is autistic. Rain Man is the first time the brothers are meeting, when Charlie discovers that he has an older brother. Their father’s passing has left behind a $3 million dollar inheritance that was supposed to go to Raymond’s care at the mental health hospital where he lives. In order to try to gain this inheritance, Charlie checks Raymond out of the psychiatric hospital and takes him back to LA with him. Their road trip across the country proves to be life changing as the characters get to know each other.

3. A Beautiful Mind (2001)

A Beautiful Mind is a true story of the life of John Forbes Nash, Jr. (Russel Crow), a mathematical genius, who lived with schizophrenia. The movie truly captures the challenges that he faced including paranoia and delusions that alter his promising career and his life.


4. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)


After spending time in a mental health hospital, Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper) is forced to move back in with his parents. The symptoms of living with bipolar disorder have caused him to lose both his wife and his job. He is determined to get his wife back and meets someone, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who offers to help him in exchange for being her ballroom dance partner. Silver Linings Playbookrepresents the range of emotion that often occurs within someone who lives with bipolar disorder in a way that is both real and riveting.

5. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)


One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is the second movie to ever win all five major Oscars, and is notable for questioning the definition of a mental illness. There’s no doubt characters in it have conditions including anti-social disorders (although it’s never clear if Nicholson’s McMurphy does), but arguably the person in charge – Nurse Ratched – is the most affected as she displays psychopathic tendencies.

6. The Skeleton Twins (2014)


The opening scene of Skeleton Twinsshows the two main characters, Milo (Bill Hader) and Maggie (Kristen Wiig), both attempting suicide. Milo’s attempt lands him in the hospital, which reunites the brother and sister back together after 10 years of estrangement. Both of these characters express their depression in a way that is both candid and humorous as they learn to accept each other and themselves.

7. We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)


Brilliant in depicting the potential tragic consequences of antisocial personality disorder and how it affects those closest to the sufferer, We Need to Talk About Kevin is a bleak, but vital, watch. It deals with the condition from a human perspective rather than utilising it for shock value, and Ezra Miller is sensational as the troubled older Kevin with Swinton also excellent as his empathetic and believable mother.

8. Jacob’s Ladder (1990)


One of the starkest on-screen depictions of post-traumatic stress disorder, Jacob’s Ladder has become a cult horror classic although still undoubtedly divisive. Often disturbing, the movie doesn’t shy away from the darker elements of PTSD as Tim Robbins’ war veteran Jacob suffers from vivid hallucinations and flashbacks, before ending with a real gut punch that will leave you speechless as the credits roll.

9. Donnie Darko (2001)


A cult classic, Donnie Darko is open to numerous interpretations, but can serve as a believable account of how schizophrenia can affect someone and not turn them violent. After all, Donnie (Gyllenhaal) eventually sacrifices himself for the good of his family and the others around him. That might not actually be the case, but that’s the genius of the movie: we are right in Donnie’s shoes as even we don’t know what to believe.

10. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)


As Blanche Dubois, Vivien Leigh does an excellent job conveying the mental illnesses suffered by the character, including borderline personality disorder and likely obsessive-compulsive disorder. It’s a movie faithful to Tennessee Williams’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, and one that marked the arrival of Marlon Brando as a Hollywood icon with an electrifying performance.

11. Black Swan (2010)


Black Swan is a gripping portrayal of how the pressures of fame can affect the mind with its main character Nina (Portman) eventually suffering from a number of conditions, primarily schizophrenia. In an attempt to uncover her darker side, Nina’s psychosis lead her to imagine that she has become the black swan of Swan Lake, and you are compelled to follow.

12. Memento (2000)


Praised for its accurate portrayal of anterograde amnesia (the inability to create new memories), Memento utilises a non-linear structure to showcase the effects of the condition. Christopher Nolan’s second feature works as both a thrilling, involving mystery and a thought-provoking movie about memory. The lead character might have trouble remembering, but the movie will have no problem lingering long in your mind.

13. Fight Club (1999)


Though it’s not revealed immediately, the unnamed narrator suffers from a dissociative disorder, with two personalities in one body. A bit like the narrator, Fight Club had two lives: an underwhelming box office run with mixed critical reaction, before becoming a deserved cult classic and recognised as one of David Fincher’s best films. You might want to look away during the Angel Face beating though.

12. The Machinist (2004)


This film does an excellent job of highlighting the impact of Insomnia. Trevor suffers from an extreme case of insomnia. The illness plagues his life and causes his mind to operate poorly in an altered state. Trevor’s insomnia causes a number of problems for him. Because of his lack of sleep, he is incredibly emaciated. He begins to hallucinate a man at his machinist job, and is distracted by the hallucination when a coworker becomes trapped in a machine and loses his arm. Trevor is blamed for this accident and is further alienated by his coworkers. He descends into paranoia and lashes out at the people he cares about and hallucinates more characters and events throughout the film.

13.What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)


An incredible film which encompasses the impact mental health has on the wider family. The film is about Gilbert (Depp), a young man who works at a grocery store to support his depressed mother and developmentally disabled younger brother.The mother, Bonnie (Darlene Cates), is an interesting character who suffers from an eating disorder and what appears to be severe depression. After experiencing the trauma of her husband committing suicide in their basement, Bonnie becomes reclusive and spends most of her time binge eating and disassociating while watching television. As a result, she becomes very obese and cannot leave their home.

14. Girl, Interrupted (1999)


Based on writer Susanna Kaysen’s account of her 18-month stay at a mental hospital in the 1960s. The films stars Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie as two young women who have been admitted to a mental hospital in the late sixties. The two characters differ wildly. Susanna (Ryder) attempts to mix alcohol with pills and nearly kills herself. Throughout the film, it is up in the air if Susanna is actually suffering from a mental illness or is just dealing poorly with her family life and future. Even Susanna questions this at the end of the film. Lisa (Jolie) is a chronic resident at the hospital and has escaped many times. She is considered a sociopath with manipulative and rebellious tendencies. Lisa may seem like she was painted in a terrible light, but it was not without its purpose. Lisa chooses to avoid getting help for her condition, and in turn becomes responsible for her own life falling apart. On several occasions in the film, it becomes clear that Lisa is a good but frightened person who is just lost in her illness.

15. As Good as It Gets (1997)


While the movie’s view on how to deal with obsessive-compulsive disorder may be over-simplified, Nicholson is terrific in depicting the condition’s potential symptoms, including the fear of contamination, and how it can alienate people from those around them. You’ll be happy to be by his side though, thanks to the movie’s perfect mix of humour and heartbreak.

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