People choose particular films because they make them feel, speak of aspirations, dreams, desires or fears. They tell of darker things of life, allowing us to portray something that would be challenging to put in words. Movies about mental illness belong to such category where a person is forced to analyze, evaluate, and reflect based on personal life.
At times difficult or therapeutic, movies should be taken with a grain of salt as there may be a lack of sensitivity or professional knowledge. Be it a creative approach to mental disorder portrayal or documentary, it has a goal, which must be found as this is what truly matters!
20 Best Movies About Mental Health
Naming best movies about mental illness are always subjective because each individual has specific attitude or understanding of on-screen events. Whether it is depression or PTSD, there is always a story and a point being made by director. Finding out how well it has been achieved in practice is for you to find out!
1. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Starting with a classic portrayal of psychiatric institution, this movie tells the tale of a criminal McMurphy (played by Jack Nicholson) wishing to escape the prison by any means. Acting up as an insane person, Nicholson’s character faces degradation and abuse in a mental ward’s facilities. What makes this narration unique is showing how an abusive nurse is only an instrument of evil, trusting her instincts, believing that she is actually helping mentally ill people. There is intensity, realistic portrayal of every person, and detailed description of daily lives and routines lived by people kept in psychiatric institution. This particular scenery with attention to details reveals the true evil…
2. I am Sam (2001)
For a slightly different turn, here are a powerful movies about psychological disorders and at the same time about love, compassion where cliches get broken. “I am Sam” tells a story of a mentally handicapped father (played by Sean Penn) who fights for custody rights as he tries to keep his 7-year-old daughter. When social services try to take away the child, Penn’s character hires a lawyer (Michelle Pfeiffer). It tells a story of mutual care and disorders that can be challenged.
3. Rain Man (1988)
Another powerful classic that brings out the problem of autism, exploring deeper sides of mental disability. A unique duet of Dustin Hoffmann and Tom Cruise shows how much can be revealed during honest conversations where no stereotypes are applied. Movies like this show how disability can also be seen as a special skill.
4. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Dealing with paranoid schizophrenia, this movie is inspired by real-life story of John Forbes Nash Jr., an American mathematician. There is a powerful interplay of knowledge, personal research, and overcoming of an illness that tries to take over. As an outsider, the main character makes a research while discovering economic theory’s conspiracy. Governmental involvement, additional pressure portray mental illness from another side, revealing personal struggles.
5. Still Alice (2015)
One of the most powerful movies about mental illness on Netflix. This film tells a story of a linguistics professor who goes through an inner decay as she is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Married woman with three children, Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) has to learn to live again and value each minute, finding inner strength as her life will never be the same again.
6. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Pat Salatano’s character (played by Bradley Cooper) shows a truly sincere portrayal of bipolar disorder in daily life. Spending time in a mental health hospital, Salatano aims to bring his family back. Meeting Tiffany, main protagonist steps on the road to recovery, each step of which is filled with strong emotion, allegories, and dialogues. The film shows how bipolar mental challenges affect family’s life.
7. Helen (2009)
A list of mental health movies would be incomplete without this powerful story. Helen Leonard (Ashley Judd) reveals one of the most powerful displays of deep depression, which will bring tears to the eyes of even the strongest among us. From short-termed hospitalization to family relationships, “Helen” is extremely honest as it describes fears, mental breakdown, and a way how depression captures.
8. Girl, Interrupted (1999)
This film deals with borderline personality disorder, yet through a different prism. What does it mean to be officially “crazy”? What are the borders that should be noticed and acted upon? Based on real-life story, 18-year-old Susanna (Winona Ryder) is admitted to a mental hospital where she meets yet another challenge to solve.
9. Ordinary People (1980)
This drama revolves around PTSD mental disease case that will be familiar to most in the audience. Telling a story of a family who has lost a child in a boating accident, there is another son Conrad who is going through psychiatric therapy. Mother who has always been in favor of another child finds it challenging to support Conrad. Deep, emotional story of how mental difficulties affect entire families.
10. Mental Prison (2018) Documentary
Unique documentary that also goes under the “Shatter the Stigma” title. Telling of people with mental disabilities, social stigmas, public attitudes, and the fear. Stories of real people with no strings attached, revealing how people still fight and continue living.
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11. Infinitely Polar Bear (2014)