By Brazen Edwards
Some of the most compelling and personal portrayals of the human mind are depicted in films. Unfortunately, Hollywood often misses the mark and distorts mental health concerns, which can stigmatise and ostracise our society’s already vulnerable members.
The truth is that everyone is impacted in some way or another by mental health issues, whether struggling with their own condition or helping an affected friend or loved one. So to help you learn more about some aspects of mental wellness this list of movies attempts to discuss mental health issues in a way that I feel is quite respectful and entirely relatable.
Warning: some of these movies are tear-jerkers and might be triggering.
Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
This movie follows its two main characters closely and attempts to redefine what it means to have a mental illness. What makes this story so engaging is that these seemingly ordinary characters are educated and just trying to navigate life with their own set of unique problems but find greatness in one another. Despite those seemingly heavy themes, the movie is a charming romantic comedy.
Although it faced some criticism for dramatising mental illness, Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Steven Schlozman, MD, stated he rather enjoyed the movie. “It’s Hollywood, so there are still going to be things that are there more for the story than for accuracy,” he said. “But they did a very nice job of depicting bipolar disorder in somebody who’s quite bright, and who has limited but present insight on it.”
Girl, Interrupted (1999)
A captivating drama following a young woman who finds herself institutionalised following a recent suicide attempt. As she enters the psych ward and meets other young women, she’s exposed to people who are similar to her but also quite different. This new environment helps her to begin to truly understand who she is.
When watching this movie, you get the sense that the medical institution in the 1960s saw patients as incurable and had an experimental approach of over-medicating patients with antipsychotic medication. But it goes deeper than that and explores how these characters grow throughout the main protagonist’s lengthy stay. It’s an interesting storyline as you watch the development of each character and gain insight into how other people impact our behaviour and view of the world and how impactful our own lives are for others.
Black Swan (2010)
Black Swan a dark psychological thriller, is a compelling portrayal of a warped and tortured mind based on the immense pressure faced as a professional ballet dancer and her mother’s self-serving ambitions. Though the main character attempts to create the facade that everything is fine, the stress leads to an eating disorder, physical self-harm and a complete and utter psychological breakdown.
As we follow her eventual downfall, we begin to understand how striving for absolute perfection leads to obsession and neurosis that severely harms and threatens her grasp on reality. Despite criticism for overdramatising a wide breadth of mental health conditions, the movie does a fantastic job of portraying the struggle of navigating life with severe psychological illness.
Still Alice (2014)
This storyline follows Alice, an ambitious linguistics professor as she faces a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and the heartbreaking efforts of loved ones who watch her rapid deterioration. As her memory fades and she struggles to keep her life in order, difficult decisions are made. She slowly isolates herself and struggles with things we often take for granted.
It’s a poignant movie about the painful decline in memory, communication, and eventually the loss of independence that goes along with such a horrible disease. It was such an accurate portrayal that it can be difficult to watch if you have a family member with this disease, but it’s also a candid and intimate look into how this affects a patient and their loved ones.
With the vast majority of caregivers being women, this movie also highlights the differences in gender roles and the emotional load women take on providing care, particularly when they’re disproportionately affected by their own diagnosis.
This movie presents a seriously compelling depiction of schizophrenia’s grip on families with riveting believability. The movie revolves around a woman haunted by visions and delusions she cannot understand. Despite her issues, she is nevertheless a loving wife and mother. Her husband is very supportive but struggles to understand her, yet he wants to do everything he can to hold his family together after she starts behaving strangely.
After a doctor’s visit, they discover she has schizophrenia, but nothing seems to help, so they must learn to live with this incurable mental illness while raising a small child together as she slowly deteriorates.
So while these movies are just a small selection of those touching on mental health issues, I think they are the best ones to give you a small window into the world of those struggling to stay well.