5 Movies About Mental Illness You’ll Want to Watch
Movies about mental illness are often stigma-laden and their depictions of mental illness are just, plain wrong. That said, every once in a while Hollywood gets mental illness – or at least components of a mental illness – right (Celebrities with Mental Illness Who Made a Difference). Here are five movies about mental illness you'll want to watch for their accurate portrayals of mental illness.
1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
In this movie with mental illness, Charlie, played by Logan Lerman, is a teen who experiences being "uncool" while trying to deal with his best friend's recent suicide and his own molestation as a child. Charlie portrays many symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder accurately – such as re-experiencing of the traumatic events – and can be seen trying to self-medicate his own disorder by experimenting with drugs and alcohol.
2. The Soloist (2009)
This mental illness movie portrays schizophrenia, which is one of the most maligned mental illnesses and certainly one that can be played in an over-the-top and unrealistic way. Instead of doing this, though, Jamie Foxx plays Nathaniel Ayers, a Julliard-educated homeless man with schizophrenia, with nuance. Foxx's character hears voices and withdraws himself from social situations, instead, trying to drown out the voices with music.
3. A Beautiful Mind (2009)
This biopic of famed mathematician, John Nash, played by Russell Crowe, shows his lifelong struggles with mental health and leading up to his eventual diagnosis with schizophrenia. This movie about mental illness realistically portrays paranoia, delusions and hallucinations as they might appear to someone with schizophrenia. The psychiatrist in the film is also accurate and says phrases like "he has schizophrenia" rather than referring to Nash as "a schizophrenic." This people-first language focuses on Nash as a person rather than as a disease. The part of this film that isn't so realistic is the notion that Nash essentially cured himself by ignoring his symptoms (Cures For Schizophrenia).
4. As Good as It Gets (1997)
In this movie with a mental illness theme, Jack Nicholson plays Melvin Udall – a successful writer with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Udall exhibits OCD symptoms throughout the film including the avoidance of stepping on cracks in the sidewalk and touching people. He also brings his own sterile eating utensils out to eat. Udall realizes that his obsession and compulsions are unreasonable and they affect his everyday functioning, both of these aspects being criteria for meeting the diagnosis of OCD.
5. Rain Man (1988)
This movie with mental illness features autism. Raymond, played by Dustin Hoffman, is an autistic savant and the movie focuses on the relationships between him and his neurotypical, and rather selfish, brother (Charlie, played by Tom Cruise). This may be one of the most popular movies on mental illness as it was the top-grossing film of 1988 and it won four Oscars including Best Actor in a Leading Role for Hoffman. While this film brought autism to light in a way that no public awareness campaign ever had, it also cemented the myth that all people with autism are savants, which is blatantly untrue (Autism Fact Sheet).
Accurate Movies About Mental Illness Are Needed
While these movies about mental illness may not be perfect, they do bring about positive portrayals of mental illness in a way that makes audiences have compassion for those suffering. This is something that is wildly needed to combat the prejudice of those with mental illness and the mental illness myths that are seen in so many other films.
Last Updated: 20 May 2018
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD