Mental health has been stigmatized for decades. As film and television creators begin to incorporate mental health more frequently into their projects, the layers of stigma are slowly peeling back. However, if mental health problems are not accurately described, they can often be further stigmatized. In the past, characters struggling with mental illness were often trivialized or used as part of the plot.
It’s crucial that movie makers depict mental health issues in an accurate way that doesn’t make characters appear “weird” or “wacky.” Mental health is not a fad; it’s something people struggle with every day. Here are 10 movies that most accurately depict mental health struggles.
Related: Top 10 realistic psychopaths in movies
10 Beautiful Boy (2018)
Based on a true story, Handsome boy is about a young man named Nic who is struggling with drug addiction and his father, David, who wants to do everything in his power to help him. Both Timothee Chalamet and Steve Carell give genuine and harrowing performances that truly represent how addiction can take over all of life.
Unlike other addiction movies, Handsome boy explores frustrations and resistance to getting help. It presents the stark reality that is hitting rock bottom for many people struggling with severe drug addiction. Specifically, this film focuses on how the family of a loved one is affected and how helpless it can feel as a parent with a child who doesn’t want to get better.
This movie does an excellent job of depicting all the different aspects of drug addiction. It shows Nic’s changes in his physical appearance, mood swings, mental function, and relationship building, all of which are clear changes in the behavior of someone struggling with addiction.
9 The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
The perks of Being a Wallflower is a coming-of-age movie about a high school freshman named Charlie, played by Logan Lerman, who befriends two seniors named Sam and Patrick, played by Emma Watson and Ezra Miller.
Early in the movie, Charlie reveals that his Aunt Helen was killed in a car accident when he was seven years old. Throughout the rest of the film, Charlie has a series of flashbacks slowly discovering the horrible truth that his aunt Helen sexually abused him as a child. This sends him into an emotional spiral where he isolates himself completely and ends up in the hospital. Charlie spends about two months in the mental hospital, where he slowly comes to terms with his trauma and who he is as a person.
Grasping the realities of PTSD, sexual abuse, and trauma is no easy task, but The perks of Being a Wallflower it does it almost perfectly. It is one of the only films to accurately portray repressed memories, a common symptom of PTSD. It shows how when the brain goes through a traumatic event, it hides the memories so that they cannot be accessed in a normal state of consciousness.
8 Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Bipolar disorder is one of the most misrepresented mental illnesses in movies. Stereotypes that are consistent with bipolar disorder often include violence, unpredictability, and persistent negative thoughts. And while these symptoms may be true for some people, they can’t be attributed to everyone with bipolar disorder.
However, Pat, played by Bradley Cooper, tends to adopt some of these symptoms in the film. After being released from a mental hospital for a violent attack on the man his wife was having an affair with, he meets Tiffany, played by Jennifer Lawrence, a recently widowed woman who also suffers from bipolar disorder. .
Although the two main characters share the same disorder, they experience their mental illness very differently. This movie does a spectacular job of showing what the different types of bipolar disorder are like, including manic and depressive episodes.
7 Inside Out (2015)
A children’s movie that accurately depicts mental illness may surprise you, but Inside out hits the nail right on the head. This animated film follows Riley, who is going through many life changes, including moving across the country with his family and attending a new school. Although Riley is the main character, the real stars of the show are the emotions inside his head: Sadness, Fear, Disgust, Joy and Anger.
This film focuses on how we deal with our emotions, which is a struggle for many young adults and teens dealing with mental illness. It teaches us about the importance of emotional balance and how avoiding our emotions rarely works because emotions with negative connotations, such as sadness and anger, are unavoidable.
6 It’s Kind of a Funny Story (2010)
Based on the young adult novel, It’s a funny story it is about a high school student named Craig who is admitted to a mental hospital due to his suicidal tendencies. He assumes the hospital will do a quick wellness check, make sure he’s okay, and send him on his way. However, he is legally required to spend at least a week there… or until cleared by the medical team.
Craig meets a variety of different people at the mental hospital, but the main two who become a part of his journey are played by Zach Galifianakis and Emma Roberts. Themes such as suicide attempts and self-harm are carefully but meaningfully incorporated into this film. It shows the realities of recovery from any mental illness while carefully incorporating humor to destigmatize the idea that all people who suffer are totally miserable to the outside world.
The original author of it’s a funny story, Ned Vizzini, ended up committing suicide in 2013 after suffering years of depression. This story was based on his stay in a mental health hospital in 2004.
5 Black Swan (2010)
Black Swan is a dark drama that explores self-harm, eating disorders, and psychotic breaks. It follows the story of a dancer named Nina, played by Natalie Portman, who gets the lead role in swan lake. In this production, you must be able to capture both the beauty of the white swan and the darkness of the black swan. Playing these characters leads her into a psychotic spiral that is detrimental to her well-being.
For much of the film, Nina experiences delusions in which she doesn’t know what is real and what is fake. A scene in the film shows Nina discovering bleeding scratches on her arm, supposedly from self-harm. Due to Nina’s hallucinations, we don’t really know what’s real either.
Throughout the film, Nina deals with various disordered behaviors, including anxiety, OCD, eating disorders, and delusional thoughts. While her disordered behavior was never diagnosed in the movie, we can safely assume it’s some kind of personality disorder, which is when you have a rigid and unpredictable thought pattern.
4 Girl, Interrupted (1999)
girl, interrupted is one of the best-known movies to address borderline personality disorder. Borderline personality disorder affects the way a person sees themselves and others, causing problems with functioning in everyday life. Susanna Kaysen, played by Winona Ryder, is being treated for BPD after being admitted to a psychiatric ward.
One of the patients Susanna meets on the ward is named Lisa. Lisa, played by Angelina Jolie, is a diagnosed sociopath, some of her symptoms being manipulation and deceit. This is another personality disorder called antisocial personality disorder, which causes a person to disregard what is right and what is wrong.
Some of the scenes in this movie are terrifyingly accurate, like Lisa taunting another patient for being sexually assaulted and showing no remorse for her behavior. The film highlights the seriousness of certain personality disorders and how they can affect a person’s life in such negative ways. It’s one of the only movies where we see someone with sociopathic tendencies who isn’t inherently violent or even homicidal.
3 To the Bone (2017)
to the bone is about a 20-year-old named Ellen, played by Lily Collins, who suffers from severe anorexia nervosa. She has been in and out of different treatment centers, relapsing immediately after being released from each one. As a last resort, she is admitted to a group home recovery center with six other patients.
At first, Ellen is extremely resistant to treatment, which is a common symptom for people with eating disorders. Psychologically, the habits created by having an eating disorder become a coping mechanism that is clearly shown in Ellen’s resistance to getting better.
This movie does a brilliant job of portraying different eating disorders other than anorexia nervosa. There are characters in the movie who also suffer from bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. It is important to recognize that not all eating disorders involve body image and starvation. However, this movie highlights these symptoms in a non-glamorous way that is definitely to be applauded.
2 Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Another movie that accurately portrays mental health is little miss sunshine. The story follows a family traveling across the country in their van, persistent in taking their young daughter to her beauty pageant. Although this light-hearted movie is cute and funny, it has a layer of seriousness as it discusses major depressive disorder.
One of the main characters is Uncle Frank, played by Steve Carell. In this movie, Frank is out of a job and dealing with the emotional turmoil of his relationship, which causes him to try to take his own life. Since his insurance would not pay for the treatment, he is placed in the care of Sheryl, played by Toni Collette.
Although Frank is dealing with depression and suicidal tendencies, he seems to have more compassion for his family throughout the film. This shows that people who suffer from depression are not always miserable on the outside and often mask or smile through their emotional pain.
1 The Dark Knight (2008)
Finally, we have The dark knight. Heath Ledger prepared for his role as the Joker by isolating himself in a hotel room for six weeks before filming. His preparation definitely shined in the film, as his character was visibly deranged and experiencing psychotic behavior.
Throughout various scenes in the film, we see Ledger acting violent, emotionless, and withdrawn, all of which are symptoms of psychopathy. There is a very fine line between the correct or incorrect incorporation of mental health in the horror/suspense genre. One of the things this film gets right is that it highlights how past trauma can manifest in violent and disturbing ways. It focuses on generational trauma and how difficult it is to break that harmful cycle.
jester (2019) offers another look at mental health. But this time, the Joker (played by Joaquin Phoenix) has feelings of persecution and delusions consistent with the mental disorder paranoid schizophrenia. The Joker’s descent into madness in the film portrays the psychological torment he falls into, making it unsettling and difficult to watch.
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