Movies are a great way to understand more about mental health conditions. Here are some favorites.
Adjustments & Normal Emotions: Inside Out (2015)
This quirky animation personifies the different emotions inside of a young girl’s mind. Joy, sadness, anger, fear and disgust try to help guide Riley through a tough time when she is forced to move to San Francisco. The emotions learn to work together to help Riley get through the turmoil of adjusting to her new life. Inside Out is a clever, modern and well-made film that puts mental health into a new context.
Autism: Rain man (1988)
This classic movie tells the story of a man living with autism, Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) and his brother Charlie (Tom Cruise). Raymond’s characteristics throughout the film accurately exemplify the habits and ritualistic behaviors of someone who is autistic. The beginning Rain Man is the first time the brothers are meeting, when Charlie discovers that he has an older brother. Their father’s passing has left behind a $3 million dollar inheritance that was supposed to go to Raymond’s care at the mental health hospital where he lives. In order to try to gain this inheritance, Charlie checks Raymond out of the psychiatric hospital and takes him back to LA with him. Their road trip across the country proves to be life changing as the characters get to know each other.
Anxiety: What About Bob (1991)
What About Bob? is a comedic story about the hostile relationship between a self-involved psychiatrist, Dr. Leo Marvin (Richard Dreyfus) and his patient, Bob Wiley (Bill Murray). Bob is an extremely needy patient with high levels of anxiety. When Dr. Marvin leaves for vacation, Bob decides to follow him and his family. Dr. Marvin is driven to his breaking point when he cannot get Bob to leave. This movie is humorous in its depiction of a patient vs. psychiatrist dynamic and shows the importance of finding the mental health provider.
Bipolar disorder: Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
After spending time in a mental health hospital, Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper) is forced to move back in with his parents. The symptoms of living with bipolar disorder have caused him to lose both his wife and his job. He is determined to get his wife back and meets someone, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who offers to help him in exchange for being her ballroom dance partner. Silver Linings Playbook represents the range of emotion that often occurs within someone who lives with bipolar disorder in a way that is both real and riveting.
In “Fatal Attraction,” the infamous femme fatale character played by Glenn Close displays the emotional instability and fear of abandonment that are symptomatic of someone with Borderline Personality Disorder. Her character also exhibits the BPD symptoms of self-harm, intense anger, and manipulation as she stalks her former lover and his family.
Borderline Personality Disorder: Frances
This biopic explores the true story of Frances Farmer (Jessica Lange), a mold-breaking actress from Seattle who moved to Hollywood, Calif., and gained notoriety for her unconventional attitude. After being lured to New York under false pretenses, dealing with her overbearing mother and an addiction to alcohol lead to a mental collapse. Institutionalized, Farmer is abused by patients and staff alike. Following her release, Farmer hosts a local Indianapolis TV show until her death in 1970.
“Girl, Interrupted” is based on the memoir of Susanna Kaysen, who struggled with mental illness and Borderline Personality Disorder as a teenager and young adult. The film, which stars Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie, centers around Kaysen’s 18-month stay at a mental hospital.
Borderline Personality Disorder: Rachel Getting Married
Rachel and Sidney decide to get married, and Rachel's friend, Emma, is to be the maid of honor. Arrangements for a traditional Indian service are made. However, much to Emma's chagrin, she is replaced by Kym, Rachel's substance-abusing sister who appears shortly before the engagement. It is on the day of the formal engagement that Rachel and the rest of the family will realize that involving Kym may have been a huge mistake, the past will be re-visited and skeletons will start surfacing from hitherto closed and forgotten closets.
Depression: The Skeleton Twins (2014)
The opening scene of Skeleton Twins shows the two main characters, Milo (Bill Hader) and Maggie (Kristen Wiig), both attempting suicide. Milo’s attempt lands him in the hospital, which reunites the brother and sister back together after 10 years of estrangement. Both of these characters express their depression in a way that is both candid and humorous as they learn to accept each other and themselves.
Dysfunctional Family Dynamics: Ordinary People (1980)
Teen-aged brothers and best friends Buck and Conrad Jarrett were involved in a boating accident which claimed Buck's life. Shortly thereafter, Conrad tried to commit suicide. After a four month hospitalization, Conrad is back in his upper middle class suburban Chicago home with his parents, Calvin and Beth Jarrett. The Jarretts collectively are publicly trying to get on with their lives, Conrad who is back at high school in his senior year partaking in his old activities such as the swim team and choir. But things in the Jarrett household are not all right. Although stating he is unsure why he decides to do so, Conrad restarts his psychiatric therapy outside of the hospital with a Dr. Berger. This therapy may be able to uncover the reasons for the Jarrett's collective unhappiness, and leads each to examine not only the overall family dynamic but the individual relationships with each of the other two.
Dysfunctional Family Dynamics: Prince of Tides (1991)
The Prince of Tides is a 1991 American romantic drama film based on the 1986 novel of the same name by Pat Conroy; the film stars Barbra Streisand and Nick Nolte. It tells the story of the narrator's struggle to overcome the psychological damage inflicted by his dysfunctional childhood in South Carolina.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder: The Devil Wears Prada
In New York, the simple and naive just-graduated in journalism Andrea Sachs is hired to work as the second assistant of the powerful and sophisticated Miranda Priestly, the ruthless and merciless executive of the Runway fashion magazine. Andrea dreams to become a journalist and faces the opportunity as a temporary professional challenge. The first assistant Emily advises Andrea about the behavior and preferences of their cruel boss, and the stylist Nigel helps Andrea to dress more adequately for the environment. Andrea changes her attitude and behavior, affecting her private life and the relationship with her boyfriend Nate, her family and friends. In the end, Andrea learns that life is made of choices.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder: American Psycho
A wealthy New York investment banking executive hides his alternate psychopathic ego from his co-workers and friends as he delves deeper into his violent, hedonistic fantasies.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Gaslight
This classic movie is where the term gaslighting comes from, to indicate how an N (or other abuser) lies to you to make you doubt your experience of reality. Although the film is a bit dated now (it was made in the 1940s) it is still extremely gripping and terrifying. The narcissist in this film, Gregory Anton, is trying to deliberately send his new wife insane in order to inherit from her. An absolute must-watch for anybody interest in learning more about malignant NPD.
OCD: As Good As it Gets (1997)
Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson) is an anti-social novelist living with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in As Good As It Gets. Melvin generally dislikes all people with the exception of a waitress who works at the diner where he eats lunch every day. When his neighbor gets into an accident, Melvin agrees to look after his dog. Taking care of the dog and beginning a friendship with the waitress help him to begin his recovery from OCD. This film truly showcases how ostracizing it can be for someone to live with OCD, and how challenging it can be to make connections with people who understand the symptoms.
Schizophrenia: A Beautiful Mind (2001)
A Beautiful Mind is a true story of the life of John Forbes Nash, Jr. (Russel Crow), a mathematical savant, who lived with schizophrenia. The movie truly captures the challenges that he faced including paranoia and delusions that alter his promising career and his life. “A Beautiful Mind showed the personal experience of someone with schizophrenia better than anything I have ever seen,” said Deedee Mitchell, a member of our Facebook community.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Born On The Fourth of July (1989)
This film, directed and co-written by Oliver Stone, follows the story of Ron Kovic, a U.S. Marine sergeant, played by Tom Cruise. Kovic serves two tours in Vietnam before being wounded and returning paralyzed from the chest down. His experiences in the war, and later at the VA Hospital in the Bronx, left him psychologically wounded as well. His transition back into regular life is difficult due to anti-war sentiment and the noticeable difference in the way that people are treating him. Misunderstood by his family and friends and presenting signs of PTSD, Kovic turns to drugs and alcohol for relief. Kovic’s journey leads him to join Vietnam Veterans Against the War.