Mental Health Movies
Updated December 2018
You or your organization might want to sponsor a film night or film series featuring movies which portray mental illness with refreshments and discussion after the viewing. Very few movies avoid the stereotypes of mental illness as violent, comical or hopeless. The following are movies that attempt to be accurate in their portrayal of mental illness, and give a measure of hope and thus would be good choices for such a film program.
Mad Love (Bipolar Disorder)
Teenagers Casey and Matt fall in love. Casey suffers from bipolar disorder, a fact that Matt doesn’t know. After a bad episode Casey is institutionalized. Matt helps her escape and tries to understand her and act responsibly. 100 minutes
Eternal High (Depression, Suicide)
The award winning story of Bryce Mackie, a student with depression and suicide. It includes a speech to his school after receiving treatment. Recommended for teens. 30 minutes.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Depression and Bipolar Disorder)
A science-fiction romantic comedy/drama that focuses on the relationship between introverted and anxious Joel Barish and free-spirit Clementine Kruczynski. The central conflict arises from the existence of a procedure that can erase memories — a procedure Clementine undergoes to forget about Joel.
Frozen (Depression and Anxiety)
Disney’s “Frozen” is an animated movie that shows Anna and Kristoff’s adventure to save the kingdom of Arendelle, which is trapped in perpetual winter by Elsa’s icy spell. The movie has drawn audiences both young and old, and for many, it was an accurate depiction of anxiety and depression.
Good Will Hunting (Depression)
Will Hunting, a janitor at MIT, is a naturally bright young man who spends his spare time solving incredible puzzles that the other college students can’t seem to figure out. But Will comes from an abusive childhood, so although his mind is incredible, it is also quite troubled. Through regular meetings with a therapist , Will is able to successfully battle his depression and build up his life.
It’s A Funny Kind of Story (Depression, Suicidal ideation)
This tells the story of 16-year-old Craig who checks himself into a psychiatric ward because of his depressionand 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.
Mr. Jones (Bipolar Disorder)
Mr. Jones suffers from bipolar disorder. When he is manic, he does risky things, like trying to fly off a high building. After such episodes, he is brought to a psychiatric ward. 114 minutes.
My Sister’s Keeper (Bipolar Disorder)
Kathy Bates plays a woman coping with a severe form of bipolar disorder. We see the person, not the disorder, and her interactions with her family are realistically portrayed. 90 minutes
Perks of Being a Wallflower (Depression)
A coming-of-age story primarily about Charlie and how he adjusts to high school after being discharged from a mental health facility for his struggle with depression.
Pumpkin Eater (Depression)
Jo, the mother of 8 small children leaves her husband to marry a screenwriter named Jake. As Jo’s happiness changes to despair when Jake is unfaithful, she realizes that only psychiatric help can help her. 110 minutes
Silver Linings Playbook (Bipolar Disorder)
A man with bipolar disorder who is released from a psychiatric hospital and moves back in with his parents. Determined to win back his estranged wife, Pat meets recently-widowed sex addict who tells him that she will help him get her back if he enters a dance competition with her. 122 minutes
Sophie’s Choice (Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Suicide)
Nathan is a chemist and his girlfriend Sophie is a Polish refugee. Nathan and Sophie’s relationship is menaced by Nathan’s violent behavior, and Sophie’s disturbing memories of her war experience. The film culminates in a flashback revealing the cause of Sophie’s unbearable pain. 150 minutes
The Suicide’s Wife (Depression, Suicide)
A woman tries to put her life back together, dealing with guilt and depression after her professor husband commits suicide. 100 minutes.
Vincent – The Life and Death of Vincent Van Gogh (Bipolar Disorder, Suicide, General medical condition)
This portrait of Van Gogh has its narrative entirely from the letters that Vincent Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo. It takes him from his earliest years as a missionary, to his painting career, and finally his suicide. It is filmed in the actual locations where he actually lived. 99 minutes.
As Good As It Gets (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder)
Melvin is a novelist with an obsessive-compulsive disorder. Carol is a waitress at the local diner where Melvin eats breakfast every morning. Carol isn’t distressed by Melvin’s eccentricities, and begins to bring out his deeply concealed heart. 138 minutes
The Aviator (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder)
A psychological biopic-drama that follows the life of Howard Hughes, a famous business mogul, movie director, and pilot whose life of frivolous spending and liaisons with Hollywood actresses is compromised as his obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) begins to take control. As his condition worsens and his life begins to plummet, we learn that his family has a history of OCD.
Born on the Fourth of July (PTSD)
Ron Kovic wants to fulfill his patriotic duties by enlisting in the Marines. During his second tour in Vietnam, he accidentally kills a fellow soldier during a retreat and later becomes permanently paralyzed in battle. When he returns home to the U.S. to an uncaring Veterans Administration and to people who don’t understand what he went through, Kovic becomes an impassioned critic of the war, while dealing with post traumatic disorder.
Charlie Bartlett (ADHD)
Charlie Bartlett has been given a wealth of opportunities, but growing up without a father has caused him to act out and become withdrawn. He also struggles with ADHD. When he moves to public school, he finds that he isn’t the only kid with deep-seated problems as others begin to confide in him about their issues with family, body image, sexuality, and more.
Coming Home (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
Sally volunteers at a Veteran’s hospital after her husband Bob is sent to Vietnam, and meets men struggling to recover, physically and psychologically. Luke, a paraplegic, is bitter and full of rage. Gradually, he recovers emotionally and he and Sally become lovers. Then Sally’s husband returns from Vietnam. 131 minutes
David and Lisa (Anxiety and Compulsive Disorders)
David is trapped by his anxieties, and Lisa is a fragile compulsive. They meet in a mental institution and fall in love. 94 minutes
The Fear Inside (Agoraphobia)
Meredith suffers from agoraphobia and is terrified to go outside. She takes in a female border for company, but discovers her boarder and a friend are wanted for robbery and murder. To escape, she must go outside. 100 minutes.
Ordinary People (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Suicide)
A family has suffered the tragic loss of their eldest son in a boating accident. The younger son, Conrad who had been on the boating outing with his brother, later attempts suicide. Conrad begins therapy sessions which help him find some relief from the feelings of grief and guilt. 124 minutes
The Horse Whisperer (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
During a tragic horse ride, young Grace loses a leg and her horse Pilgrim becomes wild and unridable. Booker, a man who tames horses, is asked by Grace’s mother to try and rehabilitate the horse. Booker is successful and, Grace challenges her fear of riding and begins recovering emotionally. 170 minutes
A Beautiful Mind (Schizophrenia)
This is a movie based on the life of mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr. who overcame years of suffering with schizophrenia to win the Nobel Prize. 136 minutes
Beautiful Dreamers (Various Psychotic and Mood Disorders)
Dr. Richard Bucke, director of a Canadian mental asylum, stops using barbarous techniques on his patients after he meets Walt Whitman. This is based on a true story. 108 minutes.
Benny and Joon (Schizophrenia and personality disorder)
Benny needs someone to look after his mentally ill sister Joon. Sam is looking for a place to stay, and ends up moving in with Benny and Joon, becoming Joon’s caretaker. Joon and Sam fall for each other and Benny has a hard time dealing with this situation. 99 minutes
Donnie Darko (Schizophrenia)
A cult-classic science fiction film focusing on Donnie Darko as he navigates his doomsday visions, what it means to be alive and what it means to love. We see Donnie speak to his therapist about his visions (which often include “Frank” the Bunny), and she tells his parents he exhibits symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia. Because we see the film through Donnie’s eyes, we see reality as he does, and are frustrated and confused alongside him when people don’t see things the same way or discount his warnings.
The Fisher King (Schizophrenia, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depression)
Jack, a disk jockey spends his time on the radio insulting his listeners, but when one caller takes Jack’s advice literally and shoots up a New York City restaurant, Jack becomes suicidally depressed. He is rescued by Perry, a homeless psychotic man, who believes he’s on a quest for the Holy Grail. 137 minutes
Hearing (Our) Voices: A Participatory Research Study on Schizophrenia and Homelessness
People with schizophrenia talk about what it means to them to take part in a participatory research project on homelessness. 29 minutes.
Hope on the Streets (Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, substance abuse)
This film presents five stories of real homeless people and their families. The people have various diagnoses – paranoid schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and substance abuse. They show the devastation that mental illness and homelessness can bring to the affected person and their family. 58 minutes
I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (Schizophrenia)
This film tells about the struggle of Deborah, a schizophrenic teenager, to cope with her mental illness that causes her to have visual hallucinations. She attempts suicide to escape. After a stay in a mental hospital, and with the help of a caring psychiatrist, Deborah is eventually able to control her condition. 96 minutes
Out of the Shadow (Schizophrenia)
A woman’s struggle with paranoid schizophrenia is documented over a five-year period by her documentary-making daughter. In flashbacks, the film discusses the story of the family’s ordeal over several decades. (60 minutes)
Shine (Schizophrenia or Schizoaffective Disorder)
This is the true story of David Helfgott, a child piano prodigy who had a nervous breakdown and a number of hospitalizations in mental institutions. His story documents the struggle to heal following a painful failure, and the smothering love and overzealous plans of a misguided parent. 105 minutes
The Snake Pit (Schizophrenia)
A compassionate yet harrowing look at a woman who suffers from schizophrenia and is confined to an asylum where she undergoes various modes of therapy, including electroshock treatment and hypnotherapy. The title refers to a room in the hospital, where patients who are considered beyond hope are left in a padded cell. The movie had real-life consequences according to its producing studio, 20th Century-Fox, which claimed that it was instrumental in reforming legislation that passed in 26 states regarding mental institutions.
The Soloist (Schizophrenia)
The true story of Los Angeles columnist Steve Lopez who reaches a low point in his life where his marriage is on the rocks, and he is unhappy with his job. Wandering the streets of L.A.’s Skid Row, he spots a homeless man Nathaniel Ayers playing a violin. Lopez initially thinks of the man, named Nathaniel Ayers, as just a story idea. But as he begins to unravel the mystery of Ayers’ strange life, Lopez finds a change is happening within himself.
The Best Little Girl in the World (Anorexia Nervosa) This is a television movie about a teenage girl from a solid middle class background who slowly starves herself to death. 96 minutes
Black Swan (Anorexia Nervosa) Nina Sayers suffers from many issues because of the immense pressure she faces as a professional ballerina. Though she attempts to create the facade that she’s “okay,” the pressure leads to physical self-harm: She compulsively scratches her back to resemble that of the swan she portrays, denies herself food to remain thin, and stabs herself in the stomach as part of the performance to kill the White Swan.
Kate’s Secret (Bulimia Nervosa)
This television movie tells the story of Kate, a housewife and mother who is secretly bulimic. Once discovered and confronted by her doctor, she has many battles trying to overcome her problem in a clinic for anorexia and bulimic women, but finally gets on the road to recovery. 100 minutes
The Famine Within (Eating Disorders)
This is a documentary by Katherine Gilday that documents the contemporary obsession with an unrealistic body size and shape among North American women and the eating disorders it engenders. 90 minutes
Substance Related Disorders
Days of Wine and Roses (Alcoholism)
Clay, a public relations man who likes to drink, marries Kirsten who doesn’t drink, and after a few months, Kirsten is able to put away as much liquor as her husband. As the years pass, Joe loses one job after another and his wife neglects their child until he begins to realize that both of them are alcoholics. A former alcoholic persuades Joe to get help for his problem. 138 minutes
Lady Sings the Blues (Drug Addiction)
This film captures the essence of Billie Holliday in this semi-biographical sketch of the tragic life of the famous blues singer and drug addict. 144 minutes
Leaving Las Vegas (Alcoholism)
Ben is a Hollywood screenwriter who has been fired for alcoholism. He takes his severance pay to Las Vegas, intending to drink himself to death. There he meets Sera, a prostitute, and a symbiotic relationship between them develops. 115 minutes
This is the true story of the last 15 years of the life of Jackson Pollock, who was a leader of abstract expressionist painting whose work had major influence on the modern art movement, and who was an alcoholic. 122 minutes
Traffic (Drug Addiction)
This film tells three intersecting stories, illustrating the complexities of the drug problem. First, a Mexican police officer, Javier learns that his superior officer is corrupt. Second, a conservative judge takes a position as the new US drug czar, not realizing that his teenage daughter is becoming a drug addict. Third, federal agents are guarding a drug smuggler who is about to testify against a wealthy drug lord. 147 minutes
Disorders first Diagnosed in Infancy, Childhood or Adolescence
The Boy Inside (Asperger’s Syndrome)
The story of the filmmaker’s son Adam, a 12-year-old with Asperger Syndrome, during a tumultuous year in the life of their family. 47 minutes.
Forrest Gump (Mental Retardation)
This film shows scenes of American social history from the early 1960s through 2000. Vietnam, desegregation, Watergate and more are presented from the perspective of lovably slow-witted Forrest Gump as he finds himself entangled in situations he can’t understand. 157 minutes
Headstrong: Inside the Hidden World of Dyslexia and ADHD (ADHD and Dyslexia)
A documentary on the Dyslexia and ADHD community. An opportunity to cheer for the underdog and enjoy remarkable stories of people standing up for themselves. 26 minutes.
On the Spectrum (Asperger syndrome)
Adults living with Asperger syndrome describe the ways AS has affected their lives, their work and their relationships. 53 minutes.
Outsider: The Life and Art of Judith Scott (Down syndrome)
Judith Scott has Down syndrome, is deaf and does not speak. After 35 years of institutionalization, with the help of a sister who never gave up on her, she emerged to create a series of sculptures that have fascinated and mystified art experts and collectors around the world. 26 minutes.
Charlie receives word that his father has died and he finds that the three-million-dollar estate has been left to the caretakers of his autistic older brother, Raymond, who he didn’t previously know of. Charlie learns how to deal with Raymond’s many idiosyncrasies, but he also actually begins to care about his brother. 138 minutes
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (Mental Retardation, Suicide)
Gilbert is the eldest brother in a large family, whose morbidly obese mother who hasn’t left the house since her husband committed suicide years before. Arnie is Gilbert’s retarded teenage brother who needs constant supervision. Gilbert feels like he is living a stressful, dead-end life, stocking shelves at a grocery store. Gilbert’s future seems grim until Becky and her grandmother arrive in town. 118 minutes
The Quiet Room (Selective Mutism)
A seven-year-old girl becomes mute in protest as her parents become more and more hostile to each other. 98 minutes
Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter (Alzheimer’s dementia)
This is the moving, true story of the relationship between film maker Deborah Hoffmann and her mother as they cope with the mother’s decline into Alzheimer’s dementia. 60 minutes
Iris (Alzheimer’s dementia)
This movie tells the true tale of the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s dementia in author Dame Iris Murdoch, and how her devoted husband struggles to take care of her until he is forced to take her to a nursing facility. 90 minutes
Still Alice (Alzheimer’s dementia)
The movie follows a linguistics professor as she faces her diagnosis for early onset Alzheimer’s disease. As her memory fades and she struggles to keep her life in order, the heartbreaking film chronicles the efforts of the family members who stay by her side and the ones who can no longer watch her deteriorate.
The Madness of King George (Dementia caused by the blood disorder porphyria)
The Madness of King George tells the true story of the mental illness of King George III of England. 110 minutes
American Gigolo (Narcissistic Personality Disorder)
Julian, a slick L.A. hustler, services an upscale clientele in the Hollywood area. He becomes involved with a senator’s wife and their relationship extends beyond Julian’s normal encounters. This is a look at moral decay and redemption. 117 minutes
Girl, Interrupted (Borderline Personality Disorder)
This movie tells the story of Susanna, who is diagnosed as having borderline personality disorder. She occasionally hallucinates, and, after attempting suicide, she checks into Claymoore, a suburban Boston mental hospital for a stay that turns out to be nearly two years. At first, she is angry and antisocial. Eventually, she begins writing and tries to become well enough to leave. 127 minutes
Silence of the Lambs (Anti-Social Personality Disorder)
FBI trainee Clarice is sent to interview serial killer Hannibal Lechter at his cell in a mental hospital. Intrigued by Clarice, Lechter demands information about her personal life, and the two form a strange connection. 120 minutes
Streetcar Named Desire (Histrionic Personality Disorder)
This is the story of a fragile overly-dramatic former prostitute who visits her sister only to be taunted mercilessly by her brother-in-law. 131 minutes
Toto the Hero (Paranoid Personality Disorder)
Thomas is certain he lost a childhood to a wealthy neighborhood playmate Alfred, because he believes their infant name tags were switched in the hospital. As an old man, he has nothing but a lifetime of bitter memories until a chance happening. 94 minutes
Sybil (Dissociative Identity Disorder)
Based on a true story, Dr. Cornelia Wilbur, a psychiatrist, helps Sybil, a woman with Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly called Multiple Personality Disorder), heal her incredible interior wounds. Sybil is slowly able to heal her inner self with the support, guidance, and love of Dr. Wilbur. 122 minutes
The Three Faces of Eve
A young woman displays three distinct personalities that, with the help of a psychiatrist, are reconciled into one stable identity. A real-life case was the inspiration for the book that inspired this film, which brought Joanne Woodward a Best Actress Oscar®.
Mental Disorders in the Criminal Justice System
Brother’s Keeper (Mental Retardation)
This 1992 documentary chronicles the story of a retarded man from Munnsville, New York, Delbert Ward, who confessed to killing his brother, but then retracted his confession and maintained his innocence. The people of his community rallied behind him. 105 minutes
The Execution of Wanda Jean (Mental Retardation)
A documentary filmed in 2002 depicts the story of Wanda Jean Allen, an African-American lesbian whose low IQ indicated borderline retardation. By the age of 29, Wanda Jean had killed twice – and would become one of the most controversial death-row inmates in recent history. 87 minutes
Titicut Follies (Many judged to be criminally insane)
This classic 1967 documentary gives a bleak, graphic portrayal of the conditions at the State Prison for the Criminally Insane at Bridgewater, Mass., showing treatment of the inmates by the guards, social workers and psychiatrists. After its release, attempts to suppress the film resulted in a very limited audience. 84 minutes.
The Young Poisoner’s Handbook (Conduct Disorder)
This is the true story of poisoner Graham Young, whose fascination with toxic substances led him to do experiments in which he poisoned his stepmother, sister and others. After Graham was arrested for his deeds, a doctor attempted to rehabilitate the young man so he could once again enter society. 93 minutes
We Need to Talk About Kevin (Antisocial Personality Disorder)
A movie that explores antisocial personality disorder and how it affects those closest to the sufferer. Eva Khatchadourian has to come to terms with her son Kevin’s, horrific crime and the aftermath that comes with it.
Movie Discussion Questions
Here are some general questions which might be used to stimulate discussion on any of these movies:
- In what ways did the portrayal of the characters in the film seem representative or unrepresentative of the experience of people with mental disorders or their families as you understand them? Were any stereotypes enforced or debunked?
- Did you gain any insights from this film that will help you understand people with mental disorders and their families? What was helpful? Unhelpful?
- Was anything in this film disturbing to you?
- Does this film help the cause of better understanding of mental health issues? If so, why? If not, why not?