10 Best Movies About Mental Health And Mental Illness
The best mental health movies include Silver Linings Playbook, Shine, and The Soloist.
May is Mental Health Awareness month, so what better time to watch some of the best mental health movies to come out of Hollywood? The majority of humanity will deal with a mental health issue at some point in their life, and stars are just like us, with Hugh Jackman recently calling for better support in Hollywood. Carrie Fisher also battled depression and addiction during her life, often writing about it and trying to assist others.
These mental health movies cover a wide range of issues, from depression to schizophrenia, but all of them are important.
10. Melancholia (2011)
Any film directed by Lars von Trier is going to be depressing, but Melancholia is one of his finest works. Kirsten Dunst turns in an award-winning performance as Justine, a woman battling depression against the backdrop of the end of the world. It sounds fantastical, and in many ways it is, but the way in which Justine is depicted in bed and feeling so lost in life and then having bouts of manic activity is what makes this one of the most accurate mental health movies ever made.
According to von Trier, the inspiration came from his own experience with depression and a therapist that told him depressed people handle major stress well because of a belief that the worst will always happen. Mental health movies don’t usually include the end of the world, but in Melancholia, it’s made clear that the worst is going to happen, and it’s all about how the two sisters each face their impending doom.
9. Shine (1996)
Mental health movies often cover nervous breakdowns, but few do it with the skill and artistry of Shine, starring Geoffery Rush as David Helfgott, a gifted musician that pushes himself to earn his father’s love. After performing a demanding piece on stage, David collapses and is admitted into a mental health hospital where he receives electroshock therapy. It sounds horrifying, but what makes the film special is it’s based on a true story, and the real David Helfgott was able to go on tour following positive life changes.
Despite David’s difficulties adjusting to life away from the hospital, he eventually fell in love and, with his wife’s help, was able to play the piano at a high level again. Mental health movies don’t often have a happy ending, but this one does, and the fact that it really happened, with the usual Hollywood embellishments, makes it even better.
8. The Perks Of Being A Wallflower (2012)
The Perks of Being A Wallflower stars Logan Lerman as Charlie, a high school student dealing with PTSD and clinical depression that befriends two older students, Sam and Patrick, played by Emma Watson and Ezra Miller, respectively, making this film the answer to a Harry Potter trivia question. Other mental health movies deal with the high school experience, but few do it as well and as relatable as Charlie making a social mistake and sliding back into his depression.
As hard as most mental health movies can be to watch, it’s worth pointing out that at least The Perks of Being A Wallflower ends well, with one of the best final scenes of all time. There’s a reason this is now a cult classic and still worth watching, even if high school was a long, long time ago.
7. It’s Kind Of A Funny Story
Another of the mental health movies about the pressures of high school, It’s Kind of a Funny Story deals with the serious topic of self-harm in an offbeat way, but doesn’t make the patients themselves the butt of any jokes. Well it does, when they express the type of dark humor that makes “Live Laugh Toaster Bath” trend on TikTok. Keir Gilchrist is Craig, a high-schooler pushed to be an overachiever that finds a new path for his life thanks to his experience with fellow patients, Bobby, played by Zach Galifianakis, and Noelle, portrayed by Emma Roberts.
Like most of the good mental health movies, Craig isn’t cured at the end, but he learns to live with his condition. A recurring theme in these films is the need for a support system, and hopefully, someone watching these movies may be inspired to reach out and get assistance.
6. Good Will Hunting (1997)
Matt Damon‘s portrayal of Will Hunting won him multiple awards, and the film has become one of the best mental health movies, thanks to Robin Williams’ role as Dr. Sean Maguire, an unconventional therapist. Good Will Hunting shows a surprisingly realistic side to therapy, from Will’s initial reluctance to Maguire finally finding a way to break through.
Will Hunting’s anger issues are eventually tamed through the work of Maguire and his friend, Chuckie, played by Ben Affleck, and most importantly, the film shows the root of the issue. Mental health movies can fall apart when they blame the patient, but again, the cause, child abuse, is identified, and Will isn’t made to be a victim but a survivor. It’s an important distinction, and how Good Will Hunting handles it makes the film an all-time classic.
5. Girl, Interuppted (1999)
The movie that helped make Brittany Murphy and Angelina Jolie into stars, Girl, Interrupted, stars Winona Ryder as Susanna, a young woman with borderline personality disorder. Set in 1967, it’s one of the genre of mental health movies meant to raise awareness about the struggle of patients before psychology became more advanced and realized that not conforming to societal norms doesn’t make you crazy.
Other characters allegedly suffer from different diagnoses, including Jolie’s Lisa as a sociopath, Brittany Murphy as Daisy with OCD, Clea DuVall as Georgina, a pathological liar, and Elisabeth Moss, a schizophrenic burn victim. Parts of the film are outdated, but that’s the point, and it’s one of the most essential mental health movies.
4. The Soloist (2009)
The Soloist, starring Robert Downey Jr. as journalist Steve Lopez helping Nathanial Ayers, a musician with schizophrenia played by Jamie Foxx, is amazingly based on a true story. Hearing voices because of his disease, Ayers has become homeless on the streets of Los Angeles, when Lopez notices him and reaches out. Mental health movies dealing with schizophrenia walk a fine line, balancing hallucinations and disordered thinking with the visual medium of a movie.
Schizophrenia can cause someone to lash out, as Ayers does in The Soloist, but the film also depicts how it can be managed with a combination of treatments, and again, part of that is support from others. Unlike the other mental health movies on this list, The Soloist highlights the real organization, LAMP, that is working with the homeless in Los Angeles today.
3. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Silver Linings Playbook takes a different tactic from the other mental health movies on this list and highlights the family support system, something few other characters on this list have, at least to this extreme extent. Bradley Cooper is Pat, a man with bipolar disorder, and Jennifer Lawrence is Tiffany, a widow that suffered a nervous breakdown. Together, the pair slowly heal from their past traumas together, showing the long, bumpy road to recovery that doesn’t always move forward.
A low-stakes mental health film, it mostly falls out of the trap of making the leads into victims of their illnesses that other movies step right into. Pat’s obsession with his ex-wife can be hard to watch and understand, as can his mood swings, but that’s part of bipolar disorder which causes wild fluctuations from depression to mania. Silver Linings Playbook is an easy film to watch, and with David O. Russel’s direction, it’s filled with snappy dialogue, but it also can help create empathy with two of the most common yet misunderstood diagnoses out there.
2. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is one of the best movies of all time, powered by Jack Nicholson‘s performance as Randle McMurphy and Louise Fletcher as the infamous Nurse Ratched. The only one of the mental health movies on this list to center on someone that doesn’t have any diagnosed issue, McMurphy lies about being insane to dodge a prison sentence. Once inside the mental institution, he finds the humanity in the other patients that have been cast aside by society, befriending them and trying to boost everyone’s self-esteem.
Also starring Danny DeVito and Christopher Lloyd (in his first big screen role), the other inmates are given moments of pure humanity on screen, trying to cast a spotlight that they are still important and shouldn’t be locked away. Though the film takes a dark turn at the end, it’s a fascinating portrayal of mental health that movies at the time weren’t depicting, yet because of how it demonized institutions, some healthcare professionals think it’s resulted in more people being put in prison instead. It’s a complicated topic, and a complicated film, but it’s still relevant and popular, nearly 50 years later.
1. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Based on the real-life of mathematician John Nash, a brilliant man that suffered from schizophrenia, A Beautiful Mind is one of the best mental movies ever made, even if it is controversial in how it depicts the disease. Russell Crowe won his second Best Actor Oscar in a row for his performance, yet his overly manic hallucinations and, ultimately, how he “solves” his illness could be problematic; it’s also been said to be similar to the real experience of schizophrenics.
After all, as with other mental health movies on this list, John Nash isn’t cured at the end, and he has just learned how to live with that part of himself. The most haunting part of the film is how someone can be so brilliant and not be aware that they do not perceive reality.