The Best Movies About Mental Health

By Laura Greenstein | Dec. 20, 2017

 

It’s becoming increasingly more common for Hollywood to highlight mental health conditions in films. Because mental illness affects millions of Americans, it’s an extremely relatable theme. Sometimes, these movies show mental illness in a way that is inaccurate or stigmatizing. For those in “the business” who don’t have lived experience, it can be difficult to depict.

However, there are some movies that realistically show what it’s like to experience mental illness. Here’s a list of a few movies that get it right.

A Beautiful Mind (2001)

This movie, based on a true story, highlights the life of John Forbes Nash, Jr. (Russel Crow), a mathematical savant who lived with schizophrenia. The movie beautifully captures the challenges John faced throughout his life, including paranoia and delusions that altered his promising career and deeply affected his life. Through the magic of film, viewers can live John’s hallucinations with him, which feel as real to the audience as they did to him.

 

 

Matchstick Men (2003)

Roy (Nicolas Cage) is a con artist working with his protégé to steal a lot of money. While he may be confident in his ability to steal from the rich, he struggles in other aspects of his life. His debilitating Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), agoraphobia and panic attacks make it difficult for him to leave his apartment or even open a door. When he discovers he has a 14-year-old daughter, he’s forced to evaluate his career choices and isolated lifestyle. Matchstick Men is an honest depiction of the rituals and behaviors of someone living with OCD.

 

It’s Kind of a Funny Story (2010)

You wouldn’t think a movie set in a mental health hospital could be a comedy. However, this well-crafted film tells the story of 16-year-old Craig (Keir Gilchrist) who checks himself into a psychiatric ward because of his depression and suicidal ideation. He ends up staying in the adult unit because the youth wing is under renovation. The hospital is not a scary place and the patients are not portrayed as “mad” or “insane”—it’s a safe place where people struggling are getting help, and using humor as a relief from the serious conditions that brought them there. This Hollywood approach to a psychiatric unit may be more comical than any real-life scenario, but it helps normalize the fact that sometimes people need this level of care.

 

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

After a stay in a mental health hospital, Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper) is forced to move back in with his parents. His previously untreated symptoms of bipolar disorder caused him to lose both his wife and job, and he is determined to get his wife back. In his efforts, Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who offers to help him in exchange for Pat being her ballroom dance partner. Silver Linings Playbook represents the range of emotion that often occurs with bipolar disorder in a real and riveting way.  

 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

Socially awkward Charlie (Logan Lerman) starts high school isolated and anxious. Luckily, he becomes friends with a group of charismatic seniors, including Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller). His friends bring joy to his life, but his inner turmoil reaches a high when they prepare to leave for college. As the film goes on, we learn more about Charlie’s mental health journey—from his stay in a psychiatric hospital to the details of a childhood trauma. This coming-of-age movie does an exemplary job of showing the highs and lows of growing up with mental illness.

 

The Skeleton Twins (2014)

The opening scene of Skeleton Twins shows the film’s 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 after 10 years of estrangement. Both characters express their depression in candid and humorous ways as they learn to accept each other and themselves.

 

 

Infinitely Polar Bear (2015)

Cam (Mark Ruffalo), a father with bipolar disorder, becomes the sole caregiver for his two daughters while his wife (Zoe Saldana) goes away to graduate school. Throughout the movie, Cam faces many challenges that make it difficult for him to take care of his daughters. However, despite the severity of his condition (and some unique parenting methods that accompany it), Cam learns that he is a good father who cares deeply for his family. Infinitely Polar Bear is a very meaningful portrayal of how families can be impacted by mental illness.

 

Welcome to Me (2015)

Alice (Kristen Wiig) has just decided to go off her medications for Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) when she wins the lottery. She impulsively buys her own talk show with the money, in which she shares her opinions with the world. Although portrayed in a humorous way, Alice shows many of the traits of BPD, including mood swings and unstable relationships. As her behavior pushes away the people closest to her—including her therapist—she starts to take her mental health condition more seriously and works to keep her loved ones in her life. In the process, she falsifies the myth that a person with BPD is selfish.

 

Inside Out (2015)

This quirky animation personifies the different emotions inside a young girl’s mind. Characters Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust try to help Riley through her family’s move to San Francisco. The emotions learn to work together to help Riley process the turmoil of adjusting to her new life. Inside Out is a clever, modern and well-made film that puts mental health into a new context.

 

 

Hopefully, as we continue to spread awareness and education, Hollywood will continue to make movies like the ones in this list that show what mental illness is really like.

 

Laura Greenstein is communications coordinator at NAMI.

 

Note: An earlier version of this blog appeared on NAMI.org in December 2015.

Comments
Sandy
Elizabeth blue
1/2/2018 3:30:41 PM

Sandy
Elizabeth blue awesome movie
1/1/2018 10:23:18 AM

Theresa
A couple of movies come to mind. When the rabbit howls, the story of Trudy Chase who was diagnosed with DID and had documented 92 personalities called the troop. The other is more recent, the movie Split. Excellent portrayals of DID. Another I think even though it is more of a physical nature is Still Alice. A woman with early onset Alzheimer's and how it effected her and her family mentally. Having worked in the mental health field for 15 years, with what I have experienced with our customers these movies really do the best at portraying the illnesses.
12/28/2017 12:57:08 PM

grace mcgee
The Soloist is a film based upon the true story of Nathaniel Ayers, a musician who suffers from schizophrenia, and Steve Lopez a journalist for the Los Angeles Times, who befriended the then homeless Ayers when he was living on the streets of LA. This movie provides great insight to the experience of schizophrenia.
12/27/2017 7:58:44 PM

Randi
NO LETTING GO, which won the 2017 Media Award from NYS NAMI, along with 20 other international film festival awards. https://www.amazon.com/No-Letting-Go-Kathy-Najimy/dp/B01DEGNAZS/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1514420205&sr=8-1&keywords=no+letting+go+movie
12/27/2017 7:20:17 PM

Cort
I'm watching SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950) right now.
It's a classic about a faded actress in Hollywood. She is delusional, passive aggressive, manipulative, has suicidal 'melancholy' and is highly narcissistic. I heard it was good, it has been copied and spoofed countless times, but if I had known how great it is I would have seen it much sooner.
12/24/2017 4:09:48 PM

Keith
Ordinary People
12/22/2017 7:23:37 AM

Mark
"Mr. Jones" starring Richard Gere. Follows a man with bipolar disorder.
12/21/2017 9:38:58 PM

Kim
Benny and Joon is a great one too
12/21/2017 4:41:07 PM

Elaine Peng
"Mad World" 2016 Hong Kong drama film directed by Wong Chun and starring Shawn Yue, Eric Tsang, Elaine Jin and Charmaine Fong. It is Wong's directorial debut. A mentally ill stockbroker struggles to reconcile with his estranged father and his perturbed ex-fiancée.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zk9ePoxNi_Y
12/21/2017 1:26:25 AM

Jono Oliver
Www.homethefilm.com
12/20/2017 10:43:46 PM

Jono
https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/February-2015/Filmmaker-Jono-Oliver-Brings-African-American-Ment
12/20/2017 10:41:31 PM

Sarah
Lesser known, but I found the movie Helen (Ashley Judd) to be the most accurate depiction of major depression.
12/20/2017 9:54:17 PM

Hannah
As a person diagnosed with DID, OCD, and Depression, Girl, Interrupted is an incredible look into the lives of those with all different mental illnesses. Also, It's Kind Of a Funny Story, A Beautiful Mind, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest are great movies to see.
11/12/2017 4:52:43 PM

Jason
http://codetherapyfilm.com is a great short documentary about mental illness
7/24/2017 8:56:27 AM

tammy delbruegge
Wikipedia has a fantastic list...https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mental_disorders_in_film
7/16/2017 12:10:24 PM

Kevin G
Ordinary People is fantastic for a look at PTSD and the power of therapy.
6/28/2017 10:50:44 AM

Annie
Yay for NAMI!
5/29/2017 9:48:19 PM

Mary Bell
The thing to remember when watching these films is that there is no easy cure or fix. If the film ends in roses and sunshine keep in mind that its got a Hollywood ending!
5/10/2017 12:53:56 AM

Paul
The movie Lisa, Bright and Dark (1973) starring Kay Lenz [ on youtube btw] is actually a very realistic look at mental illness, and how ones innermost turmoil can become eclipsed by all of the stigmas which surround them, like the family's re*****tion. I have lived with bi-polar for 35+ years, but unfortunately only saw this film recently. I have to wonder if my own mother would have been enlightened by it when I was 15 and was reaching out, around 1980. This TV film came in the earlier 70's though, sliding through before Nixon put the stop on drug and mental health education. The 80's was a bad time for mental health awareness. Until the late 80's when the brat pack made it public again.
5/7/2017 1:13:23 PM

Megan
Rain Man would be the best one. What about Bob is good but Bob is annoying .
4/5/2017 7:41:52 PM

Kathryn
Whether you're a mother, father, sibling or friend with schizophrenia, or someone suffering from the disorder yourself, my daughter's story should inspire others for future. My daughter spent most of her teenager and twenties struggling with mental health (schizophrenia). She faced discrimination because of her illness too. But it’s a myth that people who have schizophrenia have no chance of permanent survival, hence, they can’t do great things and achieve their dreams/goal. Especially, with family love and support of others. I am personally sharing this for the sake of patients who are passing through pains and frustrations. Our breakthrough, achievement and success is credited to an herbal medicine called CONSUMMO, because there has been in the past too much pessimism and bad news about the illness, that it is incurable. Have a look here: http://curetoschizophrenia.blogspot.com . My daughter is back and permanently heal without any schizophrenia symptoms. Mental illnesses are a curse upon human kind, only those with mental disorders truly understand.
3/16/2017 12:17:44 PM

MRP
I recommend adding Frozen to this list. While it is vague and can be interpreted in a number of ways, Elsa's "condition" can be seen as a metaphor for mental illness - which she had to hide from her society, and became increasingly more isolated. In one scene, she goes to the mountaintop and builds her ice castle. Elsa pushes Anna away when Anna tries to rescue her. What really got me - and almost brought me to tears - is when the marshmallow snow monster shows up and forces Anna to leave. That part has to be one of the most accurate descriptions I've ever seen of dealing with a loved one who is mentally ill.
12/16/2016 1:47:09 AM

Kitty 2
Comedies – hope not! Too many movies allegedly about mental illness are comedies. There is a serious lack of reality in movies about mental illness. Mental illness is not funny, although of course many of us do have hilarious senses of humor ourselves. But non-mentally ill people have no right to laugh "at" us, and make movies like that. Few movies show reality of how mental illness really is, how it looks at its worst moments, how the worst moments sound -- screaming in anger or anguish, shrieking, sobbing loudly from the gut, for hours at a time -- sorry to reveal the truth here..... It’s not well represented in movies or YouTube first-person videos.
11/23/2016 12:28:24 PM

Kitty 2
Dear Lourdes, I love Emotions Anonymous (EA) too! Wish I could go, but the group/s in Portland that I know about are too hard to get to for me. The one I've been to a few years ago is at the Twelve Step building on N. Lombard St every Sunday morning. It take me an hour and a half one way on the bus,to get there on weekdays, where the clinic is I go to.
11/23/2016 12:23:54 PM

Leora
Also Prozac Nation for depression

And Sybil for DID
11/17/2016 3:08:47 PM

bill jobs
****************************** nah just playin
11/3/2016 11:12:19 AM

Singin'InTheRainCloud
The bipolar friends I have, in Portland and online, love the movie Mr. Jones. Richard Gere is great as a bipolar 1 man. There are two exceptionally great scenes -- the one of a teenage girl showing extreme rapid cycling (like me), and the one where Richard Gere (Mr Jones) changes moods from mania to depression. The ending is tacky. The rage scene is underplayed. But it's the only movie I've ever seen that came even close to good depiction of bipolar disorder.
8/5/2016 10:41:45 PM

vanessa flowers
A must see: Running With Scissors (2006), really captures the dualities of the experience and very entertaining.
5/9/2016 5:43:55 AM

Donald Turnbaugh
The movie Inside/Out is a must-see for all NAMI members, especially those who are involved in Ending the Silence, Parents & Teachers As Allies, NAMI Basics and any others who deal with young children.
4/22/2016 3:28:30 PM

Lourdes
I get in this site to see tecomendation for movies.
but after NAMI a place that had help me a lot
had been Emotions Anonimos... I realy really recomend for
other that like me are looking for a place to find sanity.
eanglish is not my first lenguage scuse me about the mistakes.
In spanish the group is call Neuroticos Anonimos.
4/7/2016 5:18:37 PM

Rachel
I would recommend Perks of Being a Wallflower, it depicted mental illness in adolescents.
3/20/2016 6:14:55 PM

Angela
I have found the most inspiring movies to be documentaries that demonstrate how people can recover.
Love & Mercy
Take these broken wings *
The Dr who hears voices *
Healing homes *
The Open Dialogue Approach *
Bipolarized
Numb
Masks of Madness*
Feed your head
Free the mind +
Of two minds +
You can heal your life *

The movies followed by an * can be seen on youtube for free.
Those followed by a + can be found on Netflix.

enjoy!
3/11/2016 1:00:48 AM

John W.
Great movies thank you for sharing and keep up the great work, please see this related post too: fullonlinestreamingmovies.blogspot.com/2016/01/best-sites-for-free-online-streaming-movies
2/15/2016 1:45:14 PM

B
Chronic invisible illness and the mental toll it takes: "Love and Other Drugs"
2/15/2016 9:32:05 AM

Edie
Bennie and Joon!
1/4/2016 6:32:48 PM

AM
Enjoyed "Mozart and the Whale"...Asperger's love story.
1/4/2016 10:42:25 AM

William Manning
I am a Nurse Aide and Veteran working at a Massachusetts VA Hospital. My brother, Tom, is diagnosed with Schizophrenia and I am diagnosed with Schizoaffective disorder.

Movies that have moved me are as follows:
A Beautiful Mind with Russel Crowe and Jennifer Connelly,I believe
Rainman
Girl Interrupted
Mozart and the Whale
If you haven't seen this movie it really depicts love and relationship is possible for people living with Asbergers syndrome.
The same can be said for "A Beautiful Mind"
Over the years I have done as much as I can to keep my ***** together and these movies have helped give me insight into my own as well as others suffuring.
Another great movie of my generation(I am 54) is
"One flew over the Cuckoos Nest". When I saw it I was about 15 and my brother was already coming apart with mental illness. Milos Forman Directed it brilliantly; the Ensemble acting is superb. It deserved all of the Oscars it recieved.
It is January 1, 2016. Happy New Years everyone!!!!
1/1/2016 6:28:44 PM

James
Wow! There's so much in these movies that depict Mental Illnesses. So I am very glad that this issue is indeed finding its way out of the Closet. Certainly not major blockbusters, but it gives those who are unaware a glimpse of what it's like to live where are brains are so scrabbled up most of the time.
12/31/2015 3:06:56 PM

Nancy
As the mom of a young woman living with Dissociative Identify Disorder (formally Multiple Personality Disorder) I have to add that Sybil is really not a good representation of a person living with DID. Luckily there is a new documentary currently in pre-production call "I am We" that will provide a much needed perspective on this often misunderstood condition.
12/31/2015 1:08:07 PM

Misty
Play Misty for Me...Clint Eastwood
12/31/2015 11:04:46 AM

Terry Proctor
I remember, many years ago, being touched by "David and Lisa."
At the time the movie came out, I was a teenager with absolutely no
first hand experience with mental illness, but today, over 50 years
later and with a son who lives with schizophrenia, I still think of
this film as uplifting and, for the time, being an amazing portrayal of
the enormous chasm between the "mentally healthy" and "those living
with mental illness."
12/31/2015 10:15:55 AM

julie
Great choices. I also highly suggest Girl, Interrupted for Borderline Personality Disorder and mental illness in general.
12/31/2015 8:40:32 AM

Beverly johnson
Prince of Tides
12/31/2015 5:58:50 AM

Kathy
Benny and Joon is one of my favorites.
12/31/2015 5:22:44 AM

R. M. Tallos
I strongly recommend the movie Dirty Filthy Love (2004). It deals with OCD and Tourette's in a brutally honest way.

On the other hand, I believe that As Good As it Gets, did not give an accurate depiction of OCD whatsoever.
12/30/2015 9:06:39 PM

blacklaceroses
You forgot Girl Interrupted, for Sociopath, Borderline Personality Disorder, Eating Disorders, and OCD.
12/30/2015 8:20:19 PM

James Amonett
Two of the best movies about BP came out this year, Love and Mercy and Infinitely Polar Bear. These two are the most realistic, that I have seen, at showing what it could be like to have BP and showing people with the disorder how others feel during episodes. Polar Bear reminded my wife so much of things I did, it brought her to tears. Love and Mercy gave my wife a better understanding of what the beginning stages of a release can feel like. I know we are all different the BP, but in a lot of times we are all the same.

Love and Mercy is on DVD and Polar Bear comes out within the next few weeks. I highly recommend both of them. There is a reason why theses movies are nominated for so many awards. The movies are awesome and the actors are mind blowing.
12/30/2015 7:42:17 PM

LeAnne M Thwing
Girl Interrupted is about several types of mental illness but the main character has Borderline Personality Disorder which is my main focus.
12/30/2015 6:20:50 PM

Delores Collins
How do you get a person to go see a doctor, if they insist they are normal?

A great movie that should be added to your list is,"I am Sam."
12/27/2015 11:31:03 PM

Fred Frese
Love and Mercy (2015) - The story of Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys - Diagnosed with schizophrenia
12/21/2015 4:50:55 PM

Ann Gatwood
Just watched Silver Linings Playbook. Great film. Really appreciate the character's bringing out even the "Numb" emotion part of Bipolar. People need to see this. Real and true to life.
12/15/2015 12:51:31 AM

Shari
Mr. Jones is a great movie about Bipolar Disorder
12/14/2015 12:17:19 PM

Julia hurley
Would love to see results in mental health . Change laws get an organized group to collect $ to actually help mental health
12/11/2015 4:39:11 AM

Jon
"Canvas" is a great movie for families dealing mental health issues in a loved one.
12/10/2015 12:30:55 PM

Anita
The problem with A Beautiful Mind is that the real life of Mr. Nash was not nearly so rosy as the movie depicts. He did not have as wonderful a recovery as depicted.it does do a great job in depicting the experience of schizophrenia.
12/8/2015 9:08:14 PM

Naomi SS Jacobs
Add Michael Clayton for Bipolar
12/8/2015 6:58:55 PM

Jodi
What about Adam? Great portrayal of a young man living with Asbergers, out in the real world, falling in & out of love...it's a must see!!
12/8/2015 3:09:52 PM

MIND/GAME
This is a great list! For a future list of documentaries, please check out "Mind/Game: The Unquiet Journey of Chamique Holdsclaw" and let us know what you think!
12/7/2015 6:30:14 PM

Jan Schoehuijs
Haven't seen the others, but 'Rainman' is a disaster.
Since that movie appeared I keep explaining that that is NOT autism
12/7/2015 5:55:25 AM

Joanne
I can think of a couple more; the nutcracker shows how hospitalization makes a woman's illness much worse because she is separated from her children.
Sybil the multiple personality disorder film.
Both are older films but well worth watching.
12/6/2015 5:03:37 PM

Michelle
I am a regular reader of the NAMI site and blog and am very grateful for the work NAMI does. I decided to watch "What about Bob" based on the blogger's review. I was very disheartened when a few minutes into the movie the 1 psychiatrist is giving info about the client he is passing on and the other says "he doesn't have psychosis does he?..." and the other responds"...no no nothing like that". Clearly the intent was if he had psychosis the psychiatrist wouldn't have taken him on. I think that should disqualify this movie from the blogger's list. Even if the rest of the movie (which I stopped watching) completely redeemed itself, that 1 line perpetuates the stigma people with psychosis symptoms face every day. We need to take a stand against this! If you replaced that word "psychosis" with any other adjective describing a person's race, sexual orientation or religious affiliation people (rightly!) would be in an uproar! If we truly want to make headway in de-stigmatizing mental illness we need to have 0 tolerance for any language that dehumanizes people experiencing these symptoms.
12/6/2015 7:54:09 AM

Suzanne
You forgot "One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest."
12/5/2015 11:10:37 PM

Adam Goldman
I loved "The Skeleton Twins" and I own a copy of it. I could relate with my own issues dealing with depression. SNL vets Wiig and Hader are just as adept at drama as they are at comedy.
12/5/2015 9:27:03 PM

K
The insider (Russell Crowe) is a great study of introvert and extrovert behaviors.
12/5/2015 2:48:15 PM

Janet
Good movies
12/5/2015 2:10:22 PM

lauri klein
How about adding Good Will Hunting for PTSD or adjustment disorder ?
12/5/2015 8:22:14 AM

Wendy
I would also suggest Lars and the Real Girl.
12/4/2015 11:27:11 PM

Denise
I think most in the autism community would beg to differ that autism is not a mental health issue. Autism is an intellectual disability mostly affecting social interaction. Raymond was in a hospital for people with intellectual disabilities, not a mental hospital.
12/4/2015 9:36:00 PM

Andi Chrisman
Inside Out was amazing. I started crying when Riley's first "island" falls apart, I could easily remember that point in my life when my "islands" fell apart due to depression. It was such a great way to teach children especially about emotions.

I would definitely add Girl, Interrupted to this list. Though the book is better (of course), the movie is based on Susanna Kaysen's real life stay in a mental hospital in the 70s and battling Borderline Personality Disorder.
12/4/2015 6:24:41 PM

Sandie
Borderline Personality Disorder: Welcome To Me
12/4/2015 5:50:50 PM

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