10 Films That Deal With Mental Illness
According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 4 people struggles with some form of mental illness. Whether somebody is dealing with depression, anxiety, suicidal ideations, bipolar or any number of crippling afflictions, mental illness can and will affect almost all of us in one way or another. Even if we, ourselves, are not the ones afflicted, chances are that we have family members or friends who are dealing with some of these issues. Mental illness has always been a controversial topic in the world of film and television. Some films handle depression or addiction with kid gloves — too gentle of a topic to really delve into. Some films choose to make a joke out of mental illness, whether crassly on purpose or through ignorance. Thankfully, there are some films that shine a light on mental illness in a positive way or, at least, in ways that make general audiences think a little bit harder about it.
10) Identity (2003)
Identity is not one of the most positive spotlights on mental illness, but it raises an important point. This film tells the story of 10 strangers who are stranded in an abandoned hotel and are being meticulously picked off by a serial killer shrouded in mystery. It’s a classic “Whodunit?” film right up until the climax, where it’s revealed that the killer is actually one of the personalities of the narrator of the film. Identity is a perfectly acceptable scary movie, but it shows audiences that, in many cases, the acts caused by people with mental illness are not entirely their faults. Some people, like the character in this movie, truly have no power in the things that they do and that’s the scariest part.
9) Unsane (2018)
The mental hospital depicted in the 2018 film Unsane is not really what mental hospitals are like. Men and women do not sleep in the same rooms. Rarely are patients strapped to anything and, more than anything, most hospitals complete really thorough background checks. There were some truths, though. The biggest of which is the fact that a lot of the time, hospitals are just trying to make money. It’s a sad fact, but a fact nonetheless. The scariest part of Unsane is not the obsessed killer trying to hunt down our main character; it’s the idea that walking into a psych hospital, seemingly to get help, can result in you being stripped of your humanity, your rights and your free will, simply for the sake of “filling a bed.”
8) Girl, Interrupted (1999)
Sometimes, it’s the world beyond the walls of the mental hospital that is really crazy. That’s the story depicted in Girl, Interrupted anyway. Based on the memoirs of Susanna Kaysen, Girl, Interrupted is about a girl who finds herself locked inside of a mental institution for troubled young women. What goes on inside those walls is insanity, but it’s no crazier than what happens on the outside. Girl, Interrupted is a fascinating portrait of a young woman struggling to find herself. She’s used to being called “crazy,” because she’s different and that’s the easiest way to define her. Unfortunately, society still tends to throw easy labels on people instead of actually trying to understand them. Girl, Interrupted tries to paint these young women as actual living, breathing, people.
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7) Lights Out (2016)
The 2016 film Lights Out acts as almost a parable for depression. It tells the story of a young woman who left her childhood fears, as well as her mother, in the past. Her mother, it seems, is attached to a demonic entity that only shows up when the lights are off. Even though this entity has ruined her life, the mother almost holds a fondness for it; not because the mother is evil, but because she has grown up with this entity and she has grown comfortable with it. She finally realizes that her family is more important than the evil surrounding her and she must make a decision to free herself, and her family, of this vengeful spirit. Lights Out, on its own, is a great horror movie. It’s scary and atmospheric and well-written. When looked at as a film depicting mental illness, it’s even more powerful. For many people, depression is a crippling affliction, but many people come to accept and even embrace it, sometimes at the risk of their own relationships.
6) Revolutionary Road (2008)
Reuniting Titanic’s Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, Revolutionary Road is about a married couple who resent the life they’ve built for themselves and are looking for a way out. It tackles concepts such as infidelity, depression, suicide and more. We’re drawn into the story of Frank and April. It’s Michael Shannon’s character, John Givings, that perhaps we feel the most for though. John is the son of Frank and Kate’s neighbors. He is a genius but has just left a mental institution and is struggling to “fit back into” society. John is the physical manifestation of what Frank and April are feeling: trapped, misunderstood, discontented with life, angry and scared. John is everything that Frank and April are terrified of becoming.
5) What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)
Speaking of Leo, his first outstanding performance came as Arnie Grape, brother of Johnny Depp’s Gilbert, in the film What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? Arnie is severely mentally disabled and, while Gilbert loves him, he is growing more and more resentful of him. This is an honest look at the effects mental illness can have on loved ones. We all hope that if we’re ever in a situation like Gilbert, we’ll be patient and we’ll be kind. Sometimes, though, it gets to be too much and we reach a breaking point.
4) It’s Kind of a Funny Story (2010)
16-year-old Craig Gilner checks himself into a mental health clinic because he’s feeling suicidal. There, he gains an entirely new perspective on life, death, and the human spirit. Though only 16, Gilner is transferred to the adult wing of the hospital, because the adolescent wing is closed. It is there that Gilner finds kindred spirits in both Bobby (Zach Galifianakis) and Noelle (Emma Roberts). He learns many lessons while in the clinic, but the most important one is that life is absolutely worth living. While the premise of this film seems far-fetched, the movie is actually based on a memoir by Ned Vizzini. The most important lesson to take away from this film is that mental patients are still just “regular” people, trying to figure things out. Usually, mental patients are more Craig Gilner than Michael Myers, and it’s important to remember that.
3) One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
This is the film that most people think of when they picture “movies about mental illness.” Jack Nicholson’s turn as R.P. McMurphy is one of his best performances and the cast surrounding him is incredible as well. McMurphy gets transferred from a prison work camp to a mental institution, where he is confronted by a cacophony of characters, each with their own set of issues. He also meets Nurse Ratched, who is determined to get McMurphy to conform, by any means necessary. For a long time, when people thought of mental institutions, it was One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest that they imagined. In real life, there are a lot of R.P. McMurphys — people who aren’t diagnosable by the DSM-5 but just really, really angry.
2) Inside Out (2015)
Being a kid is tough. Especially in this day and age, with social media following us wherever we go, being a kid and dealing with all the emotions that come with being a kid is no walk in the park. What Pixar’s Inside Out does is show the inner-workings of the mind of an 11-year-old girl, and all the emotions she experiences. Sometimes, we only attribute depression and other mental illnesses to adults. But being a kid and growing up and experiencing big changes such as moving is hard! It’s especially hard for people whose brains are not fully developed. Emotions can come and go as they please and while many of us are quick to scoff, these emotions are still valid. Inside Out shows us that and, in doing so, it tells kids that it’s okay to experience these emotions, even the bad ones.
1) Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
We’ve addressed life inside a mental institution. But what happens when you get out? That’s the premise of Silver Linings Playbook, a film from David O. Russel that focuses on Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper) who recently discharges from a mental institution and attempts to fit back into society. This proves harder than he thought. Then he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) a woman with issues of her own that volunteers to help Pat get back with his wife. Silver Linings Playbook is one of the greatest films about mental illness because it demonstrates that it doesn’t define somebody. Pat knows where he’s been but he knows that’s not all there is to him. He has issues, and he gets angry and he gets depressed and he deals with a tremendous amount of self-loathing, but he still jogs, he still dances and he still watches the Eagles game with his parents. Silver Linings Playbook shows us that sometimes it’s okay to love somebody with a mental illness, especially if they don’t have enough love for themselves.
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