All self-caresuicideanxietycommunitymental healthlgbtqadvocacyartdiaryawareness

Movies on Mental Health

Posted September 11, 2018

Tags: self-careart

Following our recommendation list of books that explore mental health, we are excited to share our first edition of films that contribute to the conversation of mental health!

We recognize that film–and the representation in it–is evolving. Therefore, some of these selections may not be deemed perfect portrayals of mental disorders according to doctors and mental health professionals. Additionally, we understand that some of these films may hold some triggers; for instance, almost all of the films that depression also explore suicidal thoughts, feelings, or actions in some form. Therefore, viewer discretion is advised.

However, it's important to also recognize that film is an art that can make us feel less alone. That's what's so great about when we go see a movie at the theaters–you're experiencing a film from start to finish with a bunch of other humans you've never met before. Movies can make people with mental disorders feel a connection to the characters. We hope that you check out a movie from this list and are able to feel less alone.

These movies are important because they all break the silence on mental health. They are brave because they are not afraid to talk about it. They are compelling because they make us want to talk about mental health

While watching one of these movies, here are some questions to consider: 

-Can I relate to this character in any way?

-Do I know someone like that character?

-Is the mental disorder identified in the story? Or is it implied?

-How does the support system of the character affect their mental health?

-What sort of treatment does the character seek? How do they cope?

-What can this movie do better to tell the story of someone with a mental disorder more accurately?


(Photo: Summit Entertainment)

Content warning: depression, anxiety, mention of suicide, drug use

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

"It talks about how Charlie, the main character, stayed in a psychiatric hospital, endured childhood trauma, and the highs and lows of growing up with a mental illness."

–Aishani Ataliwala, GRC Executive Program Director

"I think this shows how when you have a mental illness and something bad happens, how isolating you feel and how destructive your emotions are. It also subtly illustrates that it's okay to go to a psychiatric hospital for treatment."

–Nikki Daurio, GRC 

"Perks gives a glimpse into how PTSD and depression affect people on a daily basis, along with the confusion of PTSD and how it's essentially making you live in the past. It depicts the emotional and physical toll PTSD has on a person, how the mind and body relive traumatic experiences."

–Jamie Berg, GRC Community Member

"The Perks of Being a Wallflower shows PTSD and anxiety accurately."

–Emily E. Senes, GRC Community Member


(Photo: Warner Bros)

Content warning: PTSD, violence, war

Full Metal Jacket

"Private Pyle from Full Metal Jacket is a cinematic representation of PTSD during the Vietnam War. The movie does a great job contrasting his mental state during his training versus his mental state after returning from the war."

–Arman Fijany, GRC Chief Policy Officer


(Photo: Pandora Cinema and New Market Films)

Donnie Darko

"Donnie Darko is a personal favorite of mine. Although the movie is wrapped in fiction, the main character played by Jake Gylenhal (spelling blah) shows what the manifestation of psychosis from schizophrenia might look like. Symptoms of social isolation, thought disorder, delusion, amnesia, belief that an ordinary event has special and personal meaning, belief that thoughts aren't one's own are all evident."

–Brian McInerney, GRC Chief Executive Officer


(Photo: Goshay Productions)

Content warning: depression, anxiety, mention of suicide, drug use, self-harm

Not Alone

"There's a really good film on Netflix called Not Alone. After a series of suicides in a girl's hometown, she creates this video where she talks to her friends, classmates, and strangers about their own attempts and their depression. The girl leading the interviews was just very shocked that no one is talking about it. The passion and goals of the film, I feel relate very closely to our own. If you need some inspiration, you should check it out!"

–Marissa Ericson, GRC Director of Club Development


(Photo: Universal Pictures)

A Beautiful Mind 

"Before watching the movie for the first time as a teen, I had no real idea what schizophrenia was. The way the movie was filmed allowed the audience to experience what the main character was going through and sympathize."

–Megan Habel, GRC Chief Operating Officer

"Although John Forbes Nash Jr. suffered with schizophrenia, he was still able to win a Nobel Prize in Economics for his pioneering work on the Nash Equilibrium, a key component of modern Game Theory. His work is a testament to the fact that having a mental illness does not exclude one from living a successful and fulfilling life."

–Michael Gregory, GRC Director of Policy Analysis

"A Beautiful Mind portrays schizophrenia pretty well."

–Emily E. Senes, GRC Community Member


(Photo: Universal Pictures)

Content warning: PTSD, war, violence

The Deer Hunter

"After serving with the U.S. military in Vietnam, 3 friends from a small town in Pennsylvania struggle to deal with their PTSD.  The movie serves as a depiction of how warfare affects a person's mental state and how it can lead to serious issues when not addressed. The movie also shows what some American Prisoners of War experienced in the Vietnam War, and how it caused serious mental health issues in some POWs."

–Michael Gregory, Director of Policy Analysis


(Photo: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

Content warning: eating disorder, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts


"I have not personally suffered from an eating disorder (ED), but I thought Feed was an incredibly creative and honest way of depicting how ED behavior is not under someone's control and is incredibly overwhelming. What I did identify with, however, was the dialogue. When Troian Bellisario's character is contemplating suicide, I've never cried harder. She was saying words that had been dominating my thoughts for months when I was suicidal myself."

–Nikki Daurio, GRC Chief Communications Officer


(Photo: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Inside Out

"Inside Out is a cute and fun way of showing how all of our emotions are valid, even sadness. It's okay to not be okay."

–Nikki Daurio, GRC Chief Communications Officer


(Photo: Dreamworks Pictures) 

Content warning: PTSD, war, violence

Saving Private Ryan

"Saving Private Ryan is an excellent example of how different soldiers cope with PTSD symptoms."

–Daniel Friedman, GRC Community Member


(Photo: Cinedigm)

Content warning: depression, anxiety, self-harm, PTSD

Short Term 12 

"It’s based off of the writer/director’s experience of working at a similar young adult residential facility. it deals with the worst part of treating mental illness, the logistics. A lot of time kids end up in places like that because of behavioral problems their family didn't know how or couldn't deal with or they just don't have anywhere else to go. I like that the movie shows the power of levity and human connection. We reach people by making them feel seen and understood."

–Claire Guerreiro, GRC Community Member


Silver Linings Playbook

"I also thought that Silver Linings Playbook offered a very human, endearing vision of someone with bipolar disorder."

–Sheri L. Johnson, Professor of Psychology at University of California Berkeley and Co-Director of the Greater Good Science Center, Director of Cal Mania (CALM) Program, and Director of Clinical Training & Director of the Clinical Science Program

"Silver linings playbook shows bipolar disorder very well."

–Emily E. Senes, GRC Community Member


(Photo: New World Pictures)

Content warning: depression, anxiety

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden


(Photo: Continental Distributing)

David and Lisa


(Photo: 20th Century Fox)

Three Faces of Eve

–Robert W. Levenson, Ph.D., Psychology Professor at University of California Berkeley


(Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Content warning: depression, mention of suicide, self-harm, triggering language for people with eating disorders

Little Miss Sunshine

"The film itself addresses a variety of mental illnesses in a variety of ways, and is also genuinely funny and wholesome, in the least wholesome ways. It’s absurd, and it allows viewers to explore and heal with the family. It also emphasizes inner beauty and body positivity in a world often concerned with outward appearances. All of the negative character responses to mental illness themes are addressed/resolved by the end of the movie."


(Photo: Roadside Attractions)

The Skeleton Twins

Content warning: mention of suicide, self-harm

"Almost all of the negative character responses to mental illness are addressed/resolved by the end of the movie. The themes are addressed artfully."

–Haley Thompson, GRC Community Member

(Photo: STX Entertainment)

Content warning: depression, mention of suicide

The Edge of Seventeen

"Mental illness is on the backburner but still very prevalent. It’s a truly lovely depiction of how “the awkward years” can be so painful for those enduring them. Reminds us of how hard it can be to grow up. One of the most relatable monologues about depression/dissociation/dysmorphia I’ve ever heard: 'You know, ever since we were little, I would get this feeling like... Like I'm floating outside of my body, looking down at myself... And I hate what I see... How I'm acting, the way I sound. And I don't know how to change it. And I'm so scared... That the feeling is never gonna go away.'"

–Haley Thompson, GRC Community Member


(photo: Nordisk Film)

Content warning: depression, anxiety


"It talks about depression in a way that makes it understandable in an abstract lens. They use the end of the world as a metaphor for experiencing depression."

–Isabel E., GRC Community Member


(Photo: Artisan Entertainment)

Content warning: drug use

Requiem for a Dream

"It shows how difficult it is to live with addiction."

–Jamie Berg, GRC Community Member


(Photo: Paramount Pictures)

Content warning: depression, anxiety, mention of suicide, self-harm

Ordinary People

"Ordinary People is a tough, but important film to watch because the director really pulls you into the headspace of Conrad, a high schooler who experiences PTSD and depression. The film powerfully shows the importance of family support–and how detrimental the lack of this support can be to those with a mental illness. While Conrad's therapist might not always obey the correct protocol, he is a great example of showing the power of therapy as a support system. The film also hints at the deep connections people can build in mental hospitals."

–Will D'Epagnier, GRC Editor-in-chief


(Photo: Paramount Pictures)

Content warning: depression, 2 scenes showing characters taking own lives

The Hours

"I talked about The Hours in our book recommendation list. The movie is just as good as the book. It's an immersive portrayal of depression in the lives of three women. Philip Glass composes a poetic score that conveys the characters' emotional states. The acting leaves you breathless."

–Will D'Epagnier, GRC Editor-in-chief


(Photo: Focus Features)

Content warning: depression, PTSD, drug use

21 Grams

"Naomi Watts' character Christina in 21 Grams experiences grief after losing her family in a car crash. She turns to drugs as a coping mechanism. The film spotlights how trauma can affect a person's being and how addiction can provide a dangerous and empty escape. When Christina meets Sean Penn's character, Paul, they help each other out of their rabbit holes. It's a movie that shows how human connection can be the light in the face of darkness."

–Will D'Epagnier, GRC Editor-in-chief


(Cover Photo: Lincoln Square Movie Theater by Susan Sermoneta is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

You May Also Like…

Forgiveness and Mental Illness

Posted December 11, 2017

Tags: awarenessself-care

A personal account of how forgiveness can lead to healing from the trauma of sexual assault.

Read Article

7 Simple Ways to Fight Depression

Posted December 04, 2017

Tags: self-care

The dark, cold feelings will pass. Here are 7 easy tips for fighting the blues.

Read Article

How Being Bullied Impacts Mental Health

Posted May 29, 2018

Tags: awareness

Four individuals share their stories with bullying and give advice to others in similar situations.

Read Article